Friday, October 30, 2009

Big Ten Picks Week 9

We haven't seen a slate of games this one sided since week 1, when everybody in the Big Ten were playing non-conny cupcakes. This week, we seem to have all the Big Ten heavies from the top half of the standings picking on the guys in the bottom. The Minnesota vs. Michigan State tilt is the only game in the conference that looks like it should be relatively close- and of course that's if you believe IF the Gophs can hang with Sparty without Eric Decker. Anyway, onto a bunch of seemingly one-sided matchups...

New Mexico State @ #17 Ohio State (11am Big Ten Network)
Nice that after his breakout performance against Minnesota last week, Terrelle Pryor gets a bye-week to prepare for Penn State...actually, it's better than a bye week, since playing his own defense in practice would prove tougher than facing the Aggies. The Buckeyes are favored by about six touchdowns in this one, and while I don't see them beating NMSU by 44+, they won't have any problems in this one.

Purdue @ Wisconsin (11am ESPN2)
Hard to believe that Purdue has won two straight while Sconnie has lost two, but it's been that kind of year in the Big Ten. Purdue's recent success has been because they've finally stopped giving the ball away so much, and recorded their first game without a giveaway in their 24-14 win over Illinois. The Badgers have lost two straight because they had to play by far the two best teams on their schedule in Ohio State and Iowa (they don't play Penn State this year), so you can't exactly fault them for the losses. If this game was in West Lafayette Purdue has a chance, but in Camp Randall, especially coming off a bye week, you just can't pick against the Badgers. I think Wisconsin wins out (their only tough opponent left- Michigan- has to come to Madtown too) and they nab a New Year's Day bowl spot and at worst 4th place in the conference.

Indiana @ #4 Iowa (11am ESPN)
The Hawkeyes seem to play to the level of their competition- they struggled to beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State, but have looked good against everybody else, all of whom are BCS conference teams who are at least .500 right now. IU keeps playing Jeckyl and Hyde, and it's impossible to predict who is showing up. They play horribly in wins over Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan and the worst loss for any Big Ten team all year when they went to Virginia and got whacked 47-7, yet looked good in spanking Illinois and also playing very well in losses to Michigan and Northwestern. I expect Indiana to make this one closer than it should, especially as Iowa adjusts to playing without leading rusher Adam Robinson, but Ricky Stanzi's heorics saves the day yet again.

Michigan @ Illinois (2:30pm ABC)
Boy ABC has to be excited about this regional beauty, doesn't it? Yikes. Illinois is flat awful, and may not beat a 1-A team all year. To make matters worse, their AD has come out and said The Zookers job is safe for next year. Really? Your kids have quit on this guy, and now they're being told that the coach is coming back no matter what? That'll be good motivation. Speaking of which, after the beating Michigan took last week at the hands of Penn State, as well as with more controversy swirling in Ann Arbor around coach Rich Rodriguez, the Maize and Blue will be plenty motivated to crush Illinois handily.

#12 Penn State @ Northwestern (3:30pm ESPN)
I made the mistake of picking against the JoePa's last week, but won't make it again in this one. Penn State is firing on all cylinders, and after hammering Michigan, they're going to go into Ryan Field and route the Wildcats in front of maybe 15,000 fans- most of whom will be Nittany Lion fans. Northwestern is just not very good. No really, they're not- their wins this year came against 1-AA Towson, Eastern Michigan, Purdue (the Boilers were up 21-3 in the first quarter before turning it over on six of their next eight possessions), Miami of Ohio, and a one point win against Indiana. They're not very good, but what's sad is that with those five wins, plus Illinois still to come in what will be the Slap Fight of the State of Illinois, they're probably going to be bowl eligible.

Michigan State @ Minnesota (7pm Big Ten Network)
At 3-2 in the conference (and because they don't play Ohio State), the Spartans are still in the running for at least a top five conference finish and a pretty good bowl. As much as I hope the Gophers rally around coach Tim Brewster, as much as I hope they're fired up by all the doubters who think that one of the worst offenses in the country can't possibly be better without Eric Decker, as much as I hope we see offensive coordinator Jed Fisch get crazy with his schemes and play-calling, and as much as I hope we see much more of MarQueis Gray than we do of Adam Weber....I think the Spartans are too much and too good. I'm hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. Let's hope the Gophers prove me wrong (I hate that I'm saying this for the third straight week and am STILL waiting/hoping to be proven wrong!!!)

Happy Halloween everybody. Stay safe, have fun, and GO GOPHERS!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to Beat Michigan State? Only Two Stats Really Stands Out

If the game against Michigan State this Saturday is the most important of the season, I thought I'd dig into their stats and see if we could find out how to beat them. At 4-4, they've been just as good-or bad- as Minnesota, although they do sport a better record in the conference (3-2). Looking at the major offensive and defensive stats, the Spartans look impressive- much more impressive than you'd expect from a .500 team. In fact, it's hard to imagine how a team with an offense that's 22nd nationally in passing yards (273.5 per game) and 39th in total offense (403.5) and a defense that's 24th nationally against the run (103.9 yards per game) and 39th in both pass defense (229.6) and scoring defense (20.8 points per game) is only 4-4.

Well I decided to look at their three wins (I excluded their week one blowout of 1-AA Montana State- their other three wins were over Michigan, Illinois, and Northwestern) and four losses (early to Central Michigan and Notre Dame and in-conference to Wisconsin and Iowa) and see what similarities or differences I could find.

To be honest, I was shocked at how similar the stats were, and could find only two real noticible differences between their wins and losses: when the Spartans won the battle of time of possession they were 4-0, and when they out-rushed their opponent, they were 4-0. Those two stats, obviously, go pretty well together, and perhaps for Michigan State it's just that simple. In their wins they averaged 161 rushing yards for and only 79 against, but in their losses they managed an average of only 95 while giving up an average of 132.5. That tells us that they're not a great running team, but it also tells us they ARE a great rush defense. Even to give up 132 in a loss is not a ton of rushing yards, and Wisconsin is the only team all season to gain more than 138 (John Clay and Co. plowed their way to 193 rushing yards and almost doubled the Spartans' time of possession), which of course if you've watched Sconnie at all this year shouldn't really surprise you.

Offensively, the Spartans' numbers were remarkably similar in wins and losses. The Spartans offense actually averaged more total yards (392.72 to 388), touchdown passes (2.25 to .67), and had a better 3rd down percentage (41% to 38%) in losses than in wins. Their turnover averages were almost identical (1.5 in a loss, 1.67 in a win), although they did average more than two penalties more in a loss (7.75 per game) than a win (5.67).

They were much better defensively in their three 1-A wins than in their four losses, thanks largely to two absolutely dominant performances against Michigan (holding them to just 251 total yards) and Illinois (just 272). And yet, as dominant as they were defensively in those games, they had to go to overtime to beat the Wolverines and beat the hapless Illini by only 10, despite outgaining Michigan (417 yards total offense) and Illinois (372). Overall, they can also really get after the quarterback, as their second in the Big Ten in sacks with 24.

So what seems to keep the opposition in games? Three things:
1) Turnovers
Michigan State is tied for 7th in the conference with the Gophers with a -4 turnover margin, and are actually worse at forcing turnovers than Minnesota, as the Spartans have forced just eight through eight games. In the seven games I looked at, MSU had virtually the same amount of turnovers forced in wins (1.67 per game) as losses (1.5).

2) Penalties
The Spartans are tied with Indiana for the most penalties committed in the Big Ten at 53 for the most yards (467) and the second highest average of penalty yardage per game (58.4). And it's not like the opposition isn't returning the favor either, as MSU ranks third in the conference in opponents penalty yardage per game (50 yards per game). Penalties are also killing them defensively on third down, as they've given away 18 free first downs to the opposition, the second most in the Big Ten.

3) Third Downs
Their defense has struggled on third down all season long, whether it's been giving them away with penalties or legimately, the Spartans rank 8th in the Big Ten by allowing their opponents to convert 41.2% of their third down tries. Offensively they've been exactly average in the conference, ranking sixth while converting an almost identical percentage at 41.1.

So how can the Gophers take advantage of this? Well, considering that the three weaknesses I just named for Michigan State are also weaknesses for Minnesota, that could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. I prefer the "glass half-full" theory which is that this is going to be as good of an opportunity as any to improve in some key areas that are giving us trouble.

However, I think the first two stats I gave you were the most important, and one of the Gophers keys to victory, in beating the Spartans If we can run the ball somewhat effectively and control the clock, we'll beat Michigan State. Of course, that's going to be much easier said than done for one of the worst rushing offenses in college football this season.

Two glimmers of hope in that department are that we have run much better at home this season, and that Michigan State has not seen a quarterback who is as good a runner as MarQueis Gray is (if only Juice Williams were still playing at Illinois...oh wait, he is?), and if used similarly to the way he was against Ohio State, MarQueis could have a big, big night. The Spartans can be thrown upon, although as Graham said on the podcast last night, their pass defense has really improved since getting carved up by Central Michigan and Notre Dame earlier in the year. Northwestern did go for 291 on them, so if we can get Decker loose...oh that's right, he's not playing. Well, um, just like with our penalty, 3rd down, and turnover issues, if there was ever a time to get our new receivers and passing game on track, maybe this is it!

Defensively, if we can't stop Michigan State from running the ball, we're not going to stop anybody. The Spartans removed two running backs from their roster this week, and while neither guy were much of a factor the past few weeks, that still has to hurt Michigan State's depth a bit. No matter who has been running the ball for them, their run game hasn't been great, so our rush defense, which ranks second to last in the conference, is going to get a great chance to boost their numbers. The passing game though...yikes, this could be ugly. Michigan State is the best passing offense we'll see, and considering we've been carved up by anybody with a passing game all season long, we HAVE to get pressure on the Spartan quarterbacks or it's going to be a long, long night for our secondary.

Michigan State is going to give us chances to stay in the game, and it's going to up to us to improve on what have been our weaknesses and capitalize, or it's going to be a very scary Halloween indeed for the Maroon and Gold.

The Most Important Game of the Brewster Era

If you think about it, Saturday night's home game against Michigan State really is not only the most important game of 2009 for Minnesota, but also the most important in the three years of the Tim Brewster Era. With the team sitting at 4-4 and 2-3 in the Big Ten with star receiver Eric Decker out, the season, and Brewster's tenure, is hanging in the balance. A win would be a huge boost to a program that's badly in need of one. It would be only Brewster's second win as an underdog (the first being last year's victory on the road at Illinois), and would put us, at 3-3 in the conference with Illinois and Iowa remaining, in great position to finish with at least a .500 record. While that might not seem like much, consider that the last time Minnesota finished .500 or better in the Big Ten was 2005 at 4-4. It would also mean a much better shot at seven wins and a bowl game that wouldn't take place in Detroit. Obviously, we're all winners if that happens.

To me, seven wins and a 4-4 Big Ten record would be a positive step forward for Brewster and the program in year three, especially when considering this is the toughest schedule Minnesota has played in a long, long time.

But if Minnesota loses Saturday night, that would be three loses in a row, and we'd be in danger of unravelling after a Decker injury for the second straight season. While I would still like our chances against Illinois and South Dakota State if we lost to Michigan State, there's no telling what the loss, especially if it's a bad one at home, could do to the psyche of our team and coaches. We lost two games at home last year to Northwestern and Michigan we should have won, so the two against Illiois and SDSU shouldn't be considered gimme's. Illinois has been awful, but is still talented, and SDSU is 6-1 in 1-AA, which includes a win over Northern Iowa, the team who should have beaten Iowa in week 1. They're not your ordinary 1-AA squad, and should not be taken lightly.

A Michigan State loss might also send the message to recruits that this thing is NOT getting turned around, that if it spirals out of control for the second straight year that Brewster is not making the adjustments and improvements he talked about. If he enters year four at 6-6 or 5-7 or (gulp!) even 4-8, he'll be squarely on the hot seat, and unlike this year when we brought back 18 starters, he'll be having to fill a LOT of holes, including almost the entire starting defense. Four offensive starters will graduate in Decker, TE Nick Tow-Arnett, his brother and starting center Jeff, and OT Matt Stommes. Defensively it's a much bigger blow, as a whopping NINE starters are seniors this year: our entire starting front seven- linebackers Lee Campbell, Simoni Lawrence, and Nate Triplett, and linemen Eric Small, Garrett Brown, Cedric McKinley and Barrett Moen- as well as both starting corners Trey Simmons and Marcus Sherels.

To overcome that kind of loss, Brewster is going to need a monster recruiting year to add talent and depth, and it'll be a lot easier to do coming off a 7-5 year than 5-7 or 4-8. We NEED this Michigan State game to regain momentum and confidence in the season, and for the players, fans, and Joel Maturi to believe again that Brewster is the right man for this job and that he has us going in the right direction.

No pressure Tim- the biggest game of your life is Saturday night. On behalf of all Gopher fans, we hope you're ready.

New podcast is up!!

This week's guest is Graham from The Rivalry, Esq. who gives an honest assessment of the Spartans and Gophers heading into their Halloween matchup this weekend (he also has an honest and unbiased assessment of the Gophers quarterback situation up on the site right now). Jeffrick and Jermo also take the "Try Not to Talk about Adam Weber" Challenge, wonder who- if anyone- is going to step up in Decker's absence, and muse about the present and the future of head coach Tim Brewster.

Also, we experimented with doing the podcast via Skype, so let us know how it sounds. We always appreciate the feedback. And thanks for listening.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What To Do with Tim Brewster

I think we've said our piece about losing Eric Decker and what it's going to do to the offense. My hope here is that somebody- ANYBODY- grabs this opportunity Tom Brady-style (and by that I don't mean how he grabs super models. I mean, how many moons ago when he grabbed the starting QB job in New England when Drew Bledsoe was hurt and never gave it back. But hey if any of our guys can also plow through super models like Brady, more power to them) and fills the immense void left behind by Decker. Since the spring game Jer and I have been adamant about the talent at wide receiver. We've blamed Weber and the play-calling for them being so bad so far, but at this point, I'm ready to admit it could just be that we were wrong, and these guys either aren't that talented, or are just not ready to step up and play in the Big Ten. Starting Saturday we'll get to find out.

But what I want to discuss today is our head coach, Tim Brewster, and what to do with him. Fire him? Keep him? Give him an extension (as crazy as that sounds right now, just bare with me. Please)? The short answer on what to do with him is: nothing. Not this season, not this off-season, not until the end of next season.

The long answer? Well...the Pioneer Press has a story up that covers the different sides of the "long answer" pretty well. In it Gophers AD Joel Maturi says he will wait until after the season to evaluate Brewster's performance- regardless of whether they don't win another game, or if the Gophers roll off three wins in a row and play well against Iowa.

"In the end, when you're the head football coach at the University of Minnesota, you have to win," Maturi said. "I'm going to be patient with a first-time collegiate head coach. It might be to the chagrin of some, but at the same time I believe I know the learning curve. I do believe that he is a better head coach today than he was yesterday."

Before we get to that last sentence, let me say this first: I'm glad he's waiting until after the season to figure this out. Regardless of what happens the rest of this season, in the third year of a five year deal Brewster should not get fired, but he sure as hell shouldn't get a contract extension either. He should be brought back for a fourth season, when he will have an entire roster of kids he recruited, and see what happens. I think we'll see Maturi do this as much because he's being prudent as he is because he's trying to save money. Unless the bottom COMPLETELY falls out of this season and there's player and fan revolt (which, if we lose the last four games isn't out of the realm of possibility), Maturi is not going to fire Brewster with two years remaining on his contract and then have to go out and pay a bigger name at least a million or two a season. It's not going to happen unless he absolutely, positively has to.

And the financial aspect aside, he shouldn't. Brewster, and every coach, deserves four full years with a team made up entirely of his own recruits. He is then coaching on his own merits and not riding the work of someone else. After the debacle at Washington, I'm not saying Ty Willingam has was the right choice long term at Notre Dame, but he deserved a fourth year there. Instead, he was canned after only three years, and then Charlie Weis came in and went to a BCS bowl with a team comprised almost entirely of Ty's kids. Like Ty, The Zooker Ron Zook is proving he's not cut out to be a big-time college coach either, but like Ty, he was fired after only three seasons at Florida, only to watch another coach come in and win with his kids.

Since that time, that "other coach" Urban Meyer has proven in The Swamp that he can win with his, or anyone's, recruits. Ol' Charlie Weis? Yeah not so much. The Irish are a good example of both why you don't fire a coach- or give him an coach an extension- too soon. Eight games- I repeat EIGHT GAMES- into his first season at Notre Dame (with Ty's kids!!!) Notre Dame gave Charlie Weis a 10 year extension. It looks absolutely insane now, and at the time, only less slightly. Eight games into his first season Weis had the Irish on track for their first big-time bowl game since Bob Davie was coach in 2001, and there were "rumors" speading that Weis could flee South Bend for the NFL if he wasn't taken care of. Panicking on the cusp of their first successful season in five whole years, the good folks running Notre Dame gave Charlie a 10 year extension. The Irish indeed went to the Fiesta Bowl that year, where they were thumped by AJ Hawk's hair and Ohio State. The next season they went to the Sugar Bowl and were thumped by LSU. Last year, they played in the prestigious Hawaii Bowl where they were able to defeat Hawaii- it might be the signature win for the Weis Era.

The lesson here is not to fire coaches' or lock them up too early, and before you say "why would ANYONE even think of locking up Tim Brewster after this season?!?!" well, consider that in the same PP article Gophers broadcaster and all-time leading rusher Darrell Thompson believes that if the Minnesota wins 7 games and don't lose 55-0 to Iowa, Brewster should get an extension. No really, he says that. Another former Gopher believes Brewster shouldn't even have to wait until the end of the season for his extension.

"They should almost do something now," former Gophers player Gary Hohman said. "He's going into recruiting season, and people want to know who they're going to play for. It's the nature of the business. You have to have some kind of security for the kids coming in."

With all due respect to Thompson and Hohman- are you F*%&^ING KIDDING ME?!?

As Marcus Fuller goes onto write in the story, in his three years at Minnesota Brewster is 0-8 in trophy games and has lost all seven games to ranked opponents. His signature win so far he gets a signature win, let me know. Honestly, what has Brewster done thus far? His record is 5-16 in the Big Ten and 14-21 overall. And you're worried about him getting away from you, or that he doesn't have enough job security to recruit well enough? The man still has two more years remaining on his contract. I can see that argument as we're nearing the end of year five, or even year four, but year three?

Speaking of recruiting, Maturi mentions how well Brewster's recruited so far saying, and I quote, "We don't have a (Laurence) Maroney or (Marion) Barber or any very high-profile kids, but I think we have a good mix." That's like saying that despite not winning a trophy game or defeating one single top 25 opponent, Brewster's doing well. Oh wait, we've already said that too. And even if you wanted to point to his recruiting efforts as a plus, you can't because Brewster is SO hesistant to play them. Weber, Decker, Tow-Arnett (all seven of them), Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett, and Garrett Brown are all key members of the team (or are being given a TON of playing time) and ALL of them were recruited by Glen Mason.

It's especially puzzling and frustrating on offense, where Brewster has all of these so-called decorated recruits, yet they're either not performing (pick a running back or an offensive linemen. Any of them) or are not being given a chance, be it at receiver (anyone not named Decker), or quarterback (we may have discussed this a little bit already). I don't care what the rankings say, but when you get into actual games and the kids you recruited either can't get into the game or you seem REALLY scared to let them, then I wouldn't call you a good recruiter. It's one thing not to trust or use someone else's kids when you take over a program, but to feel that way about so many of your own?

Brewster shouldn't be extended or fired regardless of how well or how poorly the team plays in the final four games. Considering he has two years left on his contract, that decision shouldn't even have to come until this time next year at the earliest.

So let's take the next four games and really evaluate what Brewster can or cannot do. As poorly as we've played the last two weeks, we've still got a chance to go bowling, and if we can somehow pull off three wins at home, we could even not go to a bowl in Detroit, which would obviously be awesome. The season is far from over yet, and with Decker out, Brewster's skill position recruits will be forced into action, and we'll see whether they really are as talented as he says (and as Jer and I think) or not. While he won't hand over the reigns outright to Gray just yet, I was happy to read this week that Brewster's going to have Gray and Weber alternate series. It's not the benching Weber deserves or that I've been calling for for almost a month, but it's a step in the right direction.

Hopefully Brewster and the team can take a few more of those steps in the right direction and get us to a bowl game, and then this time next year, maybe then we can talk about what to do with Tim Brewster. Thanks to his prudence, and the school's budget, let's hope Maturi can stick to that plan.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What now?

A week ago I re-watched the Gophers loss to Penn State specifically to pick apart Adam Weber.  In a game where he completed 10 of 22 passes for 101 yards, no TD's and 1 INT, it wasn't hard to pick apart.  Even of Weber's 10 completions, over half of them were poor throws.  Over throws, under throws, throwing to the wrong shoulder... Weber had it all.

One of the only shining moments of that game was a 42 yard reception over the middle to Weber's favorite target: Eric Decker.  That reception seemed to energize Weber and he proceeded to have 3 more very good throws on that drive.  But Decker was held without a catch for the rest of the game, and outside of that series Adam Weber looked completely lost for the entire football game.

And so, Gopher fans, I pose to you the question of the day... WHAT NOW?

Eric Decker was the only thing that was keeping Adam Weber afloat in this offense.  A safety-valve in a sea of stunt blitzes, poor pass blocking and unimaginative play calling.  Decker shone like a beacon of light in an offense of darkness for Adam Weber... now that light is gone. 

After the Purdue game, Jeffrick called for Weber to be benched.  I waited a week, but eventually came around to his way of thinking.  I wanted to hang onto Weber as the man who weathered the storm of a 1-11 season.  But the proof, as they say, was in the pudding... and the pudding, my friends, was runny, vanilla, and it seemed to spill out of the bowl only to end up in the paws of the dog far too often.

Then we played Ohio State.  Weber hung another stinker on the board and in the process his favorite, and sometimes it seemed only, target went down.  We were worried, but this was Eric FREAKING Decker.  The man is a beast.  He can take a pounding and bounce right back. 

When the news came across my email today from Jeffrick with the subject line "Decker done for the year," a link to the story and an ominous "Oh s@#$!!!," my immediate reply was "Which pretty much means Weber should be too." 

As I've thought about this situation since I sent that email I can't see a way out of this for Adam Weber.  Decker was just about all he had the last two years.  When Decker went down with a bum ankle last year, Weber struggled.  When Decker was held in check by defenses this year, Weber struggled.  So what now?

What now?

Decker Done for the Regular Season


Just read on the Pioneer Press site that Gophers star senior wide receiver Eric Decker is done for at least the regular season. Here's the PP's Gopher football beatwriter Marcus Fuller:

University of Minnesota standout wide receiver Eric Decker has a sprained left arch in his foot that might need surgery and will miss the rest of the regular season, Gophers coach Tim Brewster said today.

It's still possible Decker would be available if the Gophers make it to a bowl game. They are 4-4 (2-3 in the Big Ten) and need two more wins to be bowl eligible.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd there goes the offense. We were struggling mightly to move the ball WITH Decker in the lineup, so now what happens without him? If the Ohio State game is any indication, we're going to need MarQueis Gray to make anything happen. Maybe this makes the decision easier for Brewster to yank "starter" Adam Weber since his buddy Decker is out for the year?

We'll see, because without Decker the Gophers are now in real danger of NOT making a bowl game at all. Sure, they should still be able to beat South Dakota State, but the game against Illinois, who lost to Purdue and Michigan State by only 10, suddenly is no longer a gimme. Good gracious, this is not what this program needed right now.

I wish a speedy and full recovery to Decker, and hopefully the Gophers will make a bowl for him to play in.

GFB Top 25 Week 9

Iowa fans are still seaching for respect from human voters (they're 7th in the AP and 8th in the Coaches'), but they can't cry about what the BCS computers spit out this week: they ranked the Hawkeyes number one, which has moved them up to fourth in the latest BCS Standings. Being that I'm not a computer, I of course had to disrespect them, placing them third behind Alabama and Florida. On a neutral field Bama is still the best team in the country to me, and I think Florida's defense AND offense is better than Iowa's too. However, I did move the Hawkeyes ahead of Texas, dropping the Longhorns out of the top 3 for the first time all season despite them blowing out Missouri.

Why? Because outside of Texas and Oklahoma (I maintain that just about everybody on this list outside the top three would also have three loses if they had to face BYU on a neutral field, Miami in Miami, and Texas at the Texas State Fair. Especially without their starting quarterback and top receiving target), I have no idea if anyone else in the Big 12 is any good. No conference has done a bigger 180-and not in a positive direction- than the Big 12 has from 2008 to 2009. I toyed with moving Oklahoma State up until I looked at their schedule- their signature win is over Georgia, who is 4-3 right now. Otherwise? They've beaten up crappy non-conference opponents and the Big 12 North, which is the most bi-polar division of any conference in the country. To the Cowpokes' credit, they've done it for the most part without their starting tailback and not just their best receiver, but maybe the best receiver in the country. Still, they haven't been overly impressive, and we'll find out this Saturday what they're made of when they play Texas (which is also probably the last team with a shot of stopping the Longhorns march to the National Title game. Iowa fans should be BIG Oklahoma State fans this weekend).

Elsewhere, I moved Cincinnati ahead of USC but couldn't push TCU over them quite yet. Just a gut feeling at the moment that USC is gaining momentum and is better than TCU, and has just as solid a resume right now. Oregon and Georgia Tech moved into the top 10 as well with continued strong performances, and the winner of the Oregon/USC contest will move ahead of Cincy to 5 regardless of what the Bearcats do.

And Penn State fans, I've finally moved your team up, all the way to 11 ("this one goes up to 11"). Michigan is heading in the wrong direction since their fast start, but they're still a good football team, and Penn State handled them with relative ease. While the schedule strength is still soft (Sagarin has their sked ranked 79th, which is actually an improvement!), they're playing really good football and their stats are off the charts. In a season that's been largely devoid of style points from the the top teams, it's hard not to take notice, and be impressed, with the JoePa's.

Pittsburgh jumps into my poll at 19, but we'll have to wait a couple of weeks before finding out if Wannstead has actually figured things out. Bye this week, then an expected romp over Syracuse, but boy does the schedule turn in their final three games: home to Notre Dame, at West Virginia (one of the most un-fun road environments in the country), then home to Cincinnati. Arizona also enters the poll for the first time, as the more Iowa wins, the better the Wildcats' road loss to the Hawkeyes looks. Still, like Pittsburgh, Zona's stay in the polls could be short lived: they also have a bye week then a patsy next week (Washington State), but close at Cal (who Gopher fans should note are 24th in the BCS), home to Oregon, at Arizona State, then at USC December 5th. Yikes! Good luck with that, Mike Stoops.

1. Alabama (8-0)
2. Florida (8-0)
3. Iowa (8-0)
4. Texas (7-0)
5. Cincinnati (7-0)
6. USC (6-1)
7. TCU (6-0)
8. Oregon (6-1)
9. Georgia Tech (6-1)
10. LSU (5-1)
11. Penn State (6-1)
12. Virginia Tech (5-2)
13. Boise State (7-0)
14. Miami (5-2)
15. Ohio State (6-2)
16. Houston (6-1)
17. Oklahoma State (6-1)
18. South Carolina (6-2)
19. Pittsburgh (7-1)
20. Utah (6-1)
21. West Virginia (6-1)
22. Wisconsin (5-2)
23. Arizona (5-2)
24. BYU (6-2)
25. Oklahoma (4-3)

Dropped Out: 18. Kansas (5-2) 24. Texas Tech (5-3)

Monday, October 26, 2009

This Isn't All Adam Weber's Fault

Just so we're clear, I'm not putting all of the blame for how this season has gone on Adam Weber. Weber is certainly a problem, but he is far from being the only one. In no particular order:

The Offensive Line
Minnesota's total offense is not just the worst in the Big Ten, but is one of the worst in the country, as the average of 292.75 yards per game ranks 112th out of 120 1-A teams. The problems for the offense start up front, as the line has had difficulty run blocking and pass blocking, and the rare times they are able to hold a block seem to be because they cheated. Our backs have no holes to run through, Weber and Gray both don't get much time to throw (our QB's have been sacked 20 times, the second highest total in the league), and penalties are absolutely KILLING us!! I know there's never a good time for a penalty, but can you remember a team, pro or college, who makes as many boneheaded mistakes as our offensive line does? After two weeks against Syracuse and Air Force we said this was a problem that needed to be fixed, and six weeks later it's STILL a problem. Is it coaching or is it the players? I think the answer is yes.

Running Backs
Our rushing game is averaging a Big Ten worst 105.9 yards per game (105th nationally). Kevin Whaley is the only one of our backs living up to expectations by averaging 5.3 yards per carry, yet he's averaging barely four carries a game on the season!

Wide Receivers
Ok, so maybe the reason Weber only looks for Decker or Tow-Arnett is because they're the only two who can consistently catch the ball?!? When you remove Decker from the equation, no receiving core has had fewer catches, yards, and touchdowns than this one. That first half drop-fest was uglier than Fat Bastard in a halter top. And just to make things more difficult, there's a good chance we'll be without Decker on Saturday. Although, in the one series late in the game when they actually let MarQueis Gray throw the ball, Troy Stoudermire did have three catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. Not that I'm all that pleased with Mr. Stoudermire...

Special Teams
Stoudermire is incredibly talented on returns, but man did he stink Saturday. His fumble of the second half kickoff was where the game changed for the worse. He fumbled three other kickoffs and was finally yanked, and then proceeded to scream at our special teams coach because he was called for fair catch intereference on punt coverage. Not a good day for Troy, although even when he had good days returning kicks in previous games, the rest of our guys would screw it up with holding, clipping, or block-in-the-back penalties.

Our Pass Defense is Not Very Good
What on God's green earth has happened to our pass coverage? That's three straight weeks (and five of the past six dating all the way back to the California game) where we have really struggled to stop the pass. Come to think of it, the only three games where we haven't given up at least 252 yards through the air were against Syracuse (where QB Greg Paulus was playing in his first ever college football game- and his first football game of any kind in FIVE YEARS!?!?), Air Force (a wishbone option run team), and Wisconsin (they're Wisconsin. They don't have to throw when they rush for 295 yards at six yards per carry).

We held all three of those non-throwing teams to under 200 yards passing, but in the other five games we've been lit up like a Christmas Tree through the air. It's time to realize our pass defense is just not very good. Our defensive backs are average, or worse, in coverage, and I will no longer refer to Trey Simmons as "Big Play Trey" because the only big plays he makes are for the other team. Good gracious, Simmons and the rest of our secondary made Ohio State wideout DeVier Posey look like a combination of Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, David Boston, Joey Galloway, Cris Carter and Jesus. His first touchdown- you know, the one where he was open by 15 yards- was a total blown coverage, and his second had to be too, as when the closest player to him is plodding safety Kyle Theret, you know something went wrong. Of course we're not getting a pass rush to help out our beleaguered secondary either: the Gophers are third worst in the Big Ten in sacks with just 13 (so much for replacing Willie Van De Steeg's production from a year ago).

At Least Our Rush Defense is Good...oh wait
Yeah that's the thing- our rush defense isn't good either. We're 10th in the conference (and 96th nationally), giving up 177 yards a game. Our pass defense actually ranks ahead of our rush defense, and put them together and you get the second worst total defense ahead of only Illinois.

Third Downs Are Just Killing Us
On third down, our offense cannot stay on the field and our defense cannot get off it. We're dead last in the Big Ten in third down conversions by a pretty wide margin at 34.7% (90th nationally), and we're also dead last in opponents third down percentage by an even wider gap, as we're allowing teams to convert third downs at a 50.8% success rate (115th nationally).

Honestly, after looking at all of that, it's amazing to me we've won four games already. And even more amazing, with as bad as we've been, we can still win at least two of our next three games to be bowl eligible. But it's not going to happen without some improvements in some or all of these areas- and ALL of these areas covers the entire team. Every single guy in that locker room- well except Decker and he's hurt- needs to step up and play better, and it needs to start Saturday against Michigan State.

MarQueis "Silver Lining" Gray

I think "Silver Lining" might be the new nickname for Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray because honestly, what other positive thing can you take away from Saturday's 38-7 loss to Ohio State besides the play of Gray? 5 of 6 passing for 51 yards and Minnesota's only touchdown (and yes, I'm well aware it came against Ohio State's second team D. More on that in a minute), and was also basically the team's entire ground game, rushing 11 times for 81 yards (7.4 yards per carry). It's fascinating/frustrating/baffling to me that Wonderboy Fisch realized that the only way Minnesota could gain yards on the ground was with Gray at quarterback so they made the adjustment, yet Brewster still said after the game that his most effective player- Gray- won't be starting, and his least effective player-Adam Weber-will be. Anyone who still thinks Weber deserves to start for this team is either an idiot, or Weber has compromising pictures of them he'll release if anyone speaks out against him.

There's no logical reason why Weber should start again based on his play Saturday and the entire season. None. Zero. Please, give me the reasons why we're a better team, and offense, with Weber under center. There is no evidence to support it. Yep, he had some receivers drop some passes on Saturday, but he also was still missing guys when they were open and/or throwing behind them far too often, and he committed three more turnovers on the day. As I've been saying for three weeks now- stop making excuses for Adam Weber. He sucks, he has sucked for eight games now, neither he nor the offense will get any better with him starting, and unless he has compromising pictures of you that he'll release if you speak out against him, you're an idiot if you think otherwise. There is simpy no logical explanation on why he should continue starting. And yet he will. Welcome to Brew's Crew I guess.

I am still not calling for Brewster's head yet, but I am becoming more and more frustrated with him. Say what you will about the conservative Sweater Vest Jim Tressel at Ohio State, but once again Saturday he showed he's willing to make changes for the betterment of the team, even if it goes against what he had tried in previous weeks. Last year Tressel showed the stones to yank fifth year senior Todd Boeckman in favor of Pryor- and this was with a team that had Big Ten title aspirations!!! This season, sure, it took him seven games to realize that what they were asking Pryor to do just wasn't working, but give him credit for finally unleashing Pryor's rushing ability. We did not see any option plays with him (which makes no sense, but still), but we DID see him tuck and go more against the Gophers than the rest of the season combined almost, rushing 15 times for 104 yards (6.9 YPC) and a score.

I don't know what exactly Tressel told him, but it worked. Pryor obviously felt more comfortable than he had all season and looked to have the freedom to run that he hadn't previously been given, and the result was the Terrelle Pryor we all expected to see when the season started. Honestly, if you had somehow missed Ohio State's first seven games this season and the last time you saw Pryor was the Fiesta Bowl against Texas last year (maybe because you had been in a cave, or living under a rock, or hiding in a closet faking that you were in a hot air balloon?), when you watched the game Saturday, isn't that how you would have expected him to play? Wasn't his performance about where you'd expect him to be in his second year after all the promise he showed in his first year? After all the struggles he went through leading up to Saturday, Pryor looked right back on track to become The Next Vince Young of college football. Sure, he's going to need to do what he did to the Gophers in every game the rest of the year, but IF Pryor is back and plays like that, Ohio State becomes the favorites to grab their fifth straight Big Ten Title. Sorry Iowa and Penn State, but it's true. Of course the great thing is, we're going to get to find out on the field, as the Buckeyes play both squads in the next month.

ANYWAY, I point all of that out because despite Tressel's reputation as conservative, he's showed he CAN adapt and make necessary changes to help his football team and his offense, even if it might reflect poorly on him by admitting he was wrong. But Coach Brewster? Mr. Positivity, Mr. "My kids are the greatest and most talented and dangerous and the best in the history of the universe?" He can't see what even his own offensive coordinator can see, which is that right now MarQueis Gray gives this offense, and this team, the best chance to win. Yes, he carved up Ohio State's second team defense on the way to Minnesota's only score of the afternoon, but he did it with good passes where he led receivers and hit them in stride. He wasn't firing the ball behind or below or over his receivers- he was putting the ball where it had to be. It can be nothing but an encouraging sign that Gray CAN indeed throw and complete passes. Couple that with the fact he's such a running threat at quarterback, and with a tough Michigan State team coming to town, and the Gophs possibly without Eric Decker, Gray is the only hope they have of moving the ball. Yet he's not going to start.

With Weber starting, I'm sorry to say it, but we're going to had a VERY tough time beating the Spartans. I'm certainly not going to say that Weber is the only problem, as penalties and our defense's complete inability to get off the field on third down is absolutely KILLING us right now, but without Eric Decker, and with Adam Weber as the starter and primary quarterback, I'm not sure how we move the ball. So perhaps another silver lining, perhaps the only positive to come from Weber starting again Saturday, will be that after another assuredly ugly performance from our offense, maybe finally Brewster will be forced to see the light, and MarQueis will start Nov. 7th against Illinois. Then again, if Brew hasn't seen it now, maybe he never will.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Big Ten Picks Week 8

Indiana @ Northwestern (11am Big Ten Network)
So what if Indiana won last week? They were at home, and they beat Illinois. Illinois has not beaten a 1-A opponent all season. Do you remember what happened the last time Indiana went on the road? They got beat 174-0 by Virginia two weeks ago (ok it was 47-7, but still). Sure, Ryan Field isn't exactly what you'd call a "home field advantage" for Northwestern. Libraries are louder than Ryan Field and the librarians are more intimidating when they tell you sternly to "shhhhh!" than Wildcat fans when your team gets in the red zone, but still- it's a road game for the Hoosiers.

Illinois @ Purdue (11am ESPN2)
I've seen a few people touting upset here because Illinois will be playing to save Ron Zook's job. Really? You don't think The Zooker's job hasn't been on the line in the previous games? You think the Illini haven't had a chance to "save their season" multiple times this season? Remind me how that's turned out- oh right, they're 0-5 against 1-A opponents. Purdue has the Big Ten's second best passing offense while Illinois' pass defense is dead last. Purdue averages 4.3 yards per rush while Illinois run defense is...yep, dead last. Expect a lot of points, a lot of turnovers (on both sides- they're ranked 1 & 2 in worst turnover margin), and a Boilermaker win.

Penn State @ Michigan (2:30pm ABC)
To start the week, I was leaning towards Penn State, but after looking at the stats, I'm going with Michigan. Sure, Penn State is #1 in the Big Ten in the following categories:
Total offense, total defense, scoring defense, pass defense, rush defense, first downs, opponents' first downs, sacks, 3rd down conversions, 3rd down %, and the all important time of possession.

That's the sign of a pretty dominant team, right? Well consider they've played 1-AA Eastern Illinois (where they racked up season highs in points with 52 and total yards with 553), and three schools (Akron, Syracuse, and Illinois) who have four wins combined. Yes, they have played three other schools with winning records (Minnesota and Temple each have four wins), but lost to their only ranked opponent, an Iowa team that has proven to be really, really good. But what I hadn't realized until I looked at their schedule today is this: we're eight weeks into the season, and this trip to MEEchigan will be only their second road game of the year. The first? Illinois, who they hammered 35-17. They haven't had to play one big road game yet, and they also haven't faced an offense ranked higher than 79th nationally.

Hmmmm....Now consider the case for theWolverines.
- They have played a tougher schedule than Penn State (then again, who hasn't?), including two very tough road environments at rival Michigan State and at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa. Sure, they did lose both, but both were close games with an overtime loss to Michigan State and a two point loss to Iowa two weeks ago, which was tougher than Penn State played the Hawkeyes- and they got to do it at home!

- They have the top scoring offense in the Big Ten by a wide margin, and before you say "yeah of course they do. They scored 63 points on 1-AA Delaware State last week!" I'll tell you that if you remove that game from their totals, they'd STILL average a conference best 33 points per contest (and I'll also point out that while Penn State's second in scoring offense at 29.6 per game, if you remove their 52 points in their lone 1-AA matchup, their scoring average drops to 25.8 per game).

- They also have the top rushing offense in the Big Ten by a wide margin at 235 yards per game, and are the only Big Ten team that average over 200 yards per game- or over 190. Passing offenses can be effected by weather and cold and crowd noise- you can take a good rushing offense anywhere.

- They've also played two much better offenses than anything Penn State has seen in Notre Dame (12th in yards per game at 452.8- and they played them when they had a healthy Michael Floyd) and Michigan State (32nd in the country in yards per game and 3rd in the Big Ten in scoring offense and total offense).

Michigan isn't as flashy as Penn State and they don't have some of the big names on offense, but they've got the top rushing offense in the conference, have had to play in three big games (winning one and being very close in the other two), and played Iowa on the road much tougher than Penn State did against the Hawkeyes at home. I know I'm overthinking it and should probably stick with the Joe Pa's, but I'm going with RichRod and the Wolverines in the upset.

Iowa @ Michigan State (6pm Big Ten Network)
So not only can Iowa not get any respect nationally, but they can't even get respect in their own conference. Yes, the Spartans are much improved from their 1-3 start and yes, Iowa has struggled at Spartan Stadium the last few years, but for Iowa to be 7-0 with that defense and to be favored by barely a touchdown? Wow. I hate Iowa as much as anyone hates Iowa, but even I have to admit that seems pretty ridiculous. It's even more ridiculous when you consider that the passing is the one thing Michigan State does really well (tops in the Big Ten in passing offense and passing efficiency), and Iowa has the best pass defense in the conference (well ok, they're second to Penn State, but when you consider Penn State hasn't played anybody yet they average only 3.6 yards less per game than the Hawkeyes, Iowa's pass defense is better). The Hawkeyes DO lead the conference in picks (15), opponents completion % (49.3) and are second in fewest TD passes (5). The Spartans are going to be tough, but they haven't faced a defense like this one.

It just goes to show how much perception shapes reality- it's not just that you win, but HOW you win. They win low scoring games and don't always win pretty, but they're a legit 7-0. Yet you have to think that because they've had some close games against bad teams (the not-loss to Northern Iowa and the squeaker against Arkansas State), people think they're a fluke. Yet they've beaten Arizona (third in the Pac 10 and rising) by 10, Penn State ON THE ROAD by 11, Michigan by two and last week Wisconsin ON THE ROAD by 10. Sure they don't play pretty football, but it's effective, and they're every bit as good as their record indicates.

Ricky Stanzi has also been getting better as the weeks go by. I feel the same way about Ricky as Wes Mantooth does about Ron Burgandy- I hate him, but dammit do I respect him. Stanzi's numbers haven't been great, but he's been good when he's had to be, especially in the big aforementioned wins against Arizona, Penn State, Michigan and Sconnie. It kills me to say this, I hope this acts as the biggest reverse-jinx in histoy and nothing would give more joy than to be wrong about this pick (well with the exception of my next pick) but Iowa will beat Michigan State Saturday night.

Minnesota @ Ohio State (11am ESPN)
Yes, Ohio State's offense sucks as almost as badly as ours right now (2nd to last in the Big Ten in total offense and dead last in passing offense), and yes Terrelle Pryor is REALLY struggling (although, for the umpteenth, time I'll note his numbers are still better than Adam Weber's!!), but there's just no way Ohio State plays that badly two weeks in a row. Last week's loss to Purdue was the only time all season the Buckeyes have turned the ball over more than twice in a game, and Purdue controlled the clock as they had the ball for over 36 minutes. We know the Gophers haven't done much right on offense this year other than get the ball to Eric Decker, and unfortunately one of the things we're not good at is controling the clock, as we're last in the Big Ten in time of possession. So in order to win we're going to have to hope Pryor plays as bad or worse than last week, and our offense suddenly comes alive against probably the best defense we'll see all season. Really, not much at all to ask. Like with the Iowa prediction, I'd love to be wrong, but I don't think I will be.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We Love Golden Gopher Football

Maybe I'm saying this as much for me as I am for anyone besides me who has listened to the podcast: we here at the blog are not happy and do not sound happy about the 2009 edition of the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team. And WOW did we sound bitter and frustrated on the podcast last night. But you know what? I'm sorry I'm not sorry. Not because we're c***smen (because obviously, we are), but because we love the Gophers and this program. We really, really do.

We are frustrated and disappointed with how the season has gone and especially with how the offense has (or maybe more accurately has not) performed. We feel like Adam Weber should be benched and MarQueis Gray should be given a chance to show what he can do because if not, why did we not just redshirt the kid? We feel like Jed Fisch isn't using the talent he has on offense and that head coach Tim Brewster...well, this offense is not what I feel like we were sold by The Maroon & Gold Salesmen before the season.

But we feel this way because we love Gopher football. Probably too much. Probably a lot too much. We want nothing more than for Coach Brewster to lead the Gophs to Pasadena and the first Rose Bowl in forever. We'd especially love it if hell froze over and Weber was the quarterback who led the offense there. No really, we would.

For me personally, I'm especially frustrated and angry and disappointed right now mostly because I just didn't think this would happen. I didn't think we'd be sitting here for the third straight year at midseason baffled by what we're seeing. The 1-11 year was tough, but it was a rebuilding year and we got to see just how bare the cupboard was that Glen Mason had left behind. Last year was tough because of how well we started and how poorly we finished, but let's be honest, we overachieved in the first six or weeks or so, and our lack of talent and depth once Eric Decker and Duane Bennett got hurt came back to bite us.

It didn't mean the last two years weren't frustrating, but at least there were concrete reasons you could point at for the reasons we failed. But this year? This year, not so much. Jer and I were critical about a few aspects of the defense, but let me be clear: the defense is NOT the problem this season. Not by a long shot. They're being asked to do way too much and carry far too much of the burden. Our offense averages a league low 26:43 in time of possession, and only Michigan has the ball anywhere near as seldom as we do. Of course, Michigan combats that with by far the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten. Ours? Yeah not so much, and that's where my biggest frustration is.

We were supposed to have fixed out offensive line problems with a more down-hill, pro-style blocking scheme that suited the players we had, and we were also improving with two new starters in transfers Matt Carufel from Noh-trah Dame and Jeff Wills from the junior college of the giants (or something). But the lineplay has been no better than last year.

We were supposed to have fixed our running game problem now that both Duane Bennett and Kevin Whaley were healthy and ready to go. Yet while those two and DeLeon Eskridge are all averaging at least 4.1 yards per carry, our running game is statistically worse: in 2008 we ran for 1350 yards at just 3.1 yards per carry, an average over 13 games of just 103.85 yards per game. Through seven games in 2009 we're managed just 724 yards at 3.5 yards per carry, good for only 103.43 yards per game.

We were definitely supposed to have fixed our quarterback problem because quarterback was not a problem at all. Adam Weber entered 2009 as a second team all-conference quarterback whose struggles down the stretch last year were a result of injuries around him and a lack of blocking and playmakers. You know the story so far: much worse numbers across the board, and yet despite having an uber-talented true freshman quarterback in MarQueis Gray who the coaches DID NOT redshirt because they had so-called "big plans" for him, they refuse to give him meaningful snaps to see if he can be any more effective than Weber.

Finally, we absolutely, positively definitely were supposed to have fixed our problem of not having a viable second, third or fourth option to super receiver Eric Decker. Sophomores Brandon Green and Troy Stoudermire were ready to step up and be dangerous, HAYO!! Carpenter joined the team as the top junior college wideout in the nation last year, and youngsters Bryant Allen and Da'Jon McKnight were oozing talent. We had SO much talent at wideout that senior Ben Kuznia, who was the team's third leading receiver in 2008 with 31 catches, has been relegated to special teams because he just couldn't compete.

Well guess what? Through seven games none of these guys that were supposed to help Decker, not even surprisingly effective senior tight end Nick Tow-Arnett, is on pace to match Kuznia's 31 catches from a year ago. Seriously, no one. Tow-Arnett is our second leading receiver right now with just 16 catches, which puts him on pace for just 29 for the season. I wish I were kidding.

This is not to advocate that Ben Kuznia should be freed from special teams purgatory and is the answer to our offensive woes, it's just to make the point that something has gone wrong here. We thought we had the answers to everything and yet we've still solved nothing on offense. Is it the scheme? Is it the quarterback? *COUGHHACKIT'SDEFINITELYWEBERCOUGH* Sorry, had a tickle in my throat there. Is it just that the receivers aren't "catching" on (sorry, bad pun. Couldn't resist)? And if so, then why wouldn't you give Kuznia a chance again since he proved last year he was good for 30 catches last year when noone else has been?

Why didn't we redshirt MarQueis Gray if we're never going to use him, especially with Weber struggling so much? Why did we recruit HAYO! Carpenter at all if we're never going to use him? Ditto the rest of our receivers not named Eric Decker? WHAT ARE WE DOING ON OFFENSE?!?!?!?

Gopher fans, I ask not because I hate the Gophers and Brewster and Wonderboy Jed and Weber, but because I care and want nothing more than for them to succeeed. Really, I do. I care. I care way, way too much. Am I angry because I care or do I care because I'm angry? It's a vicious cycle. For the sake of my blood pressure, let's hope we start to get some positive answers Saturday against Ohio State.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Podcast is Up!

The pod is back, and Jermo and I are not exactly all chipper-cheerful about the Maroon and Gold after getting dominated in Happy Valley. Our guest this week is Jonathan Franz of The Rivalry, Esq. who lets us know what to expect from Ohio State this weekend, and also discusses his post What to Do With the Terrible Terrelle Pryor on how the Buckeye pivot can get back on track. Unfortunately, he has no solutions for Adam Weber, or how we can beat Ohio State at The Shoe, but we appreciate his insight nonetheless.

Oh, and just to correct myself, the last time the Gophers beat Ohio State was 2000, not 1981- it just seems like it's been that long since we were last competitive with the Buckeyes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where Have All the Quarterbacks Gone?

They say misery loves company, so the one consolation for Gopher fans in our plight of having to endure Adam Weber and a "new and improved" yet still completely anemic offense, is that we're not alone. And not just in the Big Ten, but nation wide, quarterbacking has been underwhelming in 2009- and "underwhelming" is probably being too kind. 2009 has so far been the Year of Crappy Quarterbacking, which is pretty amazing considering that before the season started, this was supposed to be THE year of the quarterback!!

Think about it: entering the season, for the first time ever, college football was returning the top three Heisman finalists from the previous season, and all were quarterbacks on great teams: Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy of Texas, and some guy named Tim Tebow for Florida (maybe you've heard of him? The second coming of Jesus according to some). Yet Bradford barely made it out of the first half in OU's opener against BYU before suffering a serious injury to his throwing shoulder (and after reinjuring it last weekend against Texas, might be done for the year). The Indestructible Tebow sustained a concussion against Kentucky, and while he made it back after the bye week to beat LSU, his passing stats for the season have been underwhelming thanks to a lack of effective options at receivers (outside of TE Aaron Hernandez). McCoy wishes he could blame injury on his subpar season- yes, the Longhorns are undefeated and might still run the table to get into the National Title game, but McCoy's numbers have been down. He threw only eight picks in all of 2008, but already has six this season, and threw for 3859 yards and 45 total TD's last year, yet in 2009 is on pace for only 3384 and 26 total TD's. His completion percentage is still a gawdy 73.4%, but is down from his amazing 76.7% of a year ago.

Perhaps it's just a lack of big-name star quarterbacks on the good teams this year? In the top 10, only Tony Pike of #5 Cincinnati and Jacory Harris of #10 Miami have had anything any resembling a great season, yet because Cincinnati is, well, Cincinnati, and Harris is just a sophomore who has had a couple of big games but doesn't have jaw-dropping stats, they're not getting much love nationally.

In the Big Ten, it's not that the quarterbacking has been underwhelming- it's been downright awful so far. And like the perception of signal-callers nationally heading into the year, what makes it so disappointing is that nobody expected a down year for Big Ten signal callers with SO many starters returning. Yet it's happened, as Penn State senior QB Daryll Clark has been the only returning starter who's come anywhere close to meeting or exceeding expectations. To say Clark has been the best QB in the Big Ten this year would be the understatement of understatements- Clark has been excellent and no other QB in the Big Ten is even close. The voters for All Big Ten second team QB should abstain this year, and just leave the spot blank, or just give first AND second team honors to Clark, because nobody else deserves it. No really, nobody. There hasn't been anyone else you could really call good, just a few guys who haven't been awful.

If you look at the passing efficiency numbers for the QB's in the conference the top of it is void of the four returning veteran starters that were supposed to battle Clark for Big Ten quarterbacking supremacy and player of the year honors: Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State, Illinois senior Juice Williams, Minnesota junior and 2008 Big Ten second team QB Adam Weber, and Iowa junior Ricky Stanzi. The results for these four range from unmitigated disaster to merely being just good enough.

Pryor is ninth in efficiency with just 10 TD passes, eight picks, and a comp% of 56. Williams, who led the conference in total offense last season as a junior, has already been benched and has been so bad he doesn't rank in the top 10 in efficiency. Neither does Weber, who has more picks (9) than TD passes (6) along with the worst completion percentage (55.6) of any starter in the Big Ten. Even if Gopher head coach Tim Brewster doesn't want to admit it, he's been a big reason why Minnesota ranks ninth in scoring offense and dead last in total offense with only 293.7 yards per game. Stanzi has been good when he's had to be, as evidenced by leading the Hawkeyes fourth quarter comeback against Wisconsin last week, but his numbers are certainly- say it with me-underwhelming. He's 7th in efficiency with 11 TD's and eight picks while completing only 59.2% of his passes and leads an Iowa offense that's eighth in scoring and ninth in total yards. And the sad thing is, he's probably the second best quarterback in the conference right now.

That's because the new starters in the rest of the league haven't been much better. Sconnie starter Scott Tolzien set the world on fire in the first five weeks when he was the Big Ten's top rated passer, but has really struggled the last two weeks in losses to Ohio State and Iowa. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol lead the top-ranked passing attack, yet neither has been good enough to grab the starting job outright. Purdue fifth year senior Joey Elliott leads everyone in yards (1856) and TD's (14), but is also first in INT's (10) and is eighth in efficiency. Northwestern's Mike Kafka has proven he can throw by completing 67% of his passes but still has only 9 TD's to four picks, and Indiana's Ben Chappell is third in yards (1664) and completion percentage (63.4), but also has just eight TD's against seven picks and is 10th in efficiency.

The biggest surprise, and the one real bright spot other than Clark, has been Michigan true freshman Tate Forcier. His numbers don't jump out at you with just 1027 yards, 57.6% and 9 TD's, but he's fourth in efficiency and has kept his turnovers to a minimum with just four picks, and has already led a number of fourth quarter comebacks for the resurgent Wolverines. Doing that under all the pressure of being the starting quarterback at Michigan as a true freshman, you could certainly make a worst choice for the second best QB in the conference so far, but I'm not sure you could do any better. Because of Iowa's record, Stanzi would probably get the nod for second team, which really says something about how disappointing the quarterbacks have been if he or Forcier are in the running for the #2 spot right now.

With five games left and the meat of the schedule still to come, there's going to be plenty of opportunities for all of these signal callers to step up and win some games for their teams. So far, it's been a story of who's quarterback hasn't been the best, but whose haven't been the worst. See Gopher fans? Our quarterback might be bad so far, but we're far from alone. In 2009 in the Big Ten, quarterbacking misery really does love company.

Monday, October 19, 2009

GFB Top 25: Week 8

Well the first edition of the BCS Standings were released this week, and the computers and the humans have one thing in common: they hate Iowa. While normally I'd be all for this hatred, this one time, I have to stand up for the Hawkeyes. Not because I no longer hate them (quite the opposite remains to be true), but because after their impressive comeback win over Wisconsin and Ohio State's shocking loss to Purdue, Iowa is now carrying the torch as the Best Team in the Big Ten. And how the Best Team in the Big Ten is viewed nationally is a reflection on our fine conference.

Well, despite beating Penn State and Wisconsin on the road, and Michigan and Arizona at home (who right now are the third best team in the Pac 10. No really, they are), Iowa is ranked sixth behind Boise State and Cincinnati. The Broncos beat an Oregon team who on that night were awful and looked woefully unprepared, who now might be the best team in the Pac 10. Their other quality wins over top 25, 30, 40, or 50 competition? They don't have one. And likely won't the rest of the year. I don't care if that's not their fault because of the conference they play in, but it's an absolute joke that the Broncos get rewarded for beating the one good team on an otherwise ridiculously easy schedule. It's far behind ridiculous that they're ranked ahead of Iowa considering 1) the schedule they've played and 2) the conference they play in.

Cincinnati has a slightly stronger case than Boise, but only slightly. Their most quality win to date was Thursday night over South Florida, a team who was undefeated and ranked last week, but has now dropped out of both polls and is not ranked in the BCS top 25. Their only other "quality" win? Beating Oregon State on the road, who is also not ranked in the BCS top 25, got give measley votes in the AP poll this week and did not garner a single vote in the coaches' polls. I know Cincinnati is a nice story and Brian Kelly is a great coach and Tony Pike leads a nice offense- but based on what they have done in 2009 they are NOT better than Iowa. You can't rationally look at the resumes of those two schools and say the Bearcats is more impressive. Yet somehow they're one spot ahead of Iowa in the BCS, two in the AP and three in the Coaches' poll. It defies explanation.

So as a stand of solidarity and unity for the Big Ten, I'm bumping Iowa up to fourth in this here blog's top 25. It'll be as high as they get until the three ahead of them lose, but it's still where they deserve to be.

This raises the larger issue though of national disrespect for the Big Ten. I can just see national pundits, fans, and media types gleefully dropping Ohio State in their polls, finally getting justification for what they've believed for years: that they KNEW Ohio State, and the Big Ten, were crap. And now, with the Buckeyes loss to Purdue, it's finally been proven out. They're burning the Big Ten at the stake and are dancing around it like a bonfire.

It makes me mad just thinking about it. What the hell? Seriously, what the hell? Yes, Ohio State stunk last Saturday, as Terrelle Pryor had the worst game of his career, and the Buckeyes deserved to lose to Purdue. A couple of things here though: this is the same Purdue team who almost beat Oregon and Notre Dame but shot themselves in the foot in both games. If those bounces go differently, the Boilermakers have a drastically different view nationally. Purdue has had a pretty good offense this year, but they just kept killing themselves with turnovers. Saturday, they finally stopped giving the ball away more than they took it back, took advantage of the turnover battle, and won a huge game at home. Purdue is not a bad team. The other thing is: USC does this EVERY YEAR. They lose a game they shouldn't in conference every year, yet they don't get dinged much at all in the standings. Florida has lost a game to an SEC West opponent every year of the Urban Meyer Era. Yet these two programs skate by in the national perception as blips on the radar screen, whereas Ohio State is being cast as frauds. The Buckeyes two losses are to USC by three and by a touchdown to a Purdue team when they couldn't have played worse. The Buckeyes season is far from over, and could very well run the table the rest of the way, claiming a share of yet another Big Ten title, but it's going to be tainted in the eyes of the voters and fans because of this loss because it just proves to them what they've always believeed, which is just how bad and overrated the Big Ten is.

Really? Look at the other BCS conferences and tell me who is so much better? No really, tell me, please, I'd LOVE to know.

ACC: A pretty good threesome at the top of Virginia Tech who beat Miami who beat Georgia Tech who beat...Virginia Tech. Tough to distinguish the best of the bunch, but not hard to distinguish how truly mediocre this conference is after those three.

Big 12: By far the most disappointing conference in the country. Their two best teams just played to a 16-13 ugly Texas win. Nebraska and Kansas both got thumped.

Big East: Cincy is legit, but Pittsburgh? I refuse to believe in a Dave Wannstead coached team until they prove it. West Virginia might be good, and South Florida probably tumbles out of the conference race like they've done in years past. The worst of the six BCS conferences. Again.

Pac 10: USC and Oregon look legit, but who's #3? Arizona? Arizona State? Oregon State? Stanford? Really, REALLY mediocre league this year.

SEC: Bama and Florida are unquestionably the two top teams in the country right now, but after that? LSU weren't up to the one challenge they've faced all year, Ole Miss are frauds, Auburn just lost to Kentucky and both Georgia and Tenneesee have three losses already. Is South Carolina the third best team? If they are that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the SEC, as they've lost their only two big contests to Georgia and Alabama.

The Big Ten might not have a Bama, Florida or Texas at the top, but their top five of Iowa, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State are as good or better than anyone. Still, try convincing the pollsters, computers, media and fans of that.

GFB Top 25 Week 8

1. Alabama (7-0)
2. Florida (6-0)
3. Texas (6-0)
4. Iowa (7-0)
5. USC (5-1)
6. Cincinnati (6-0)
7. Miami (5-1)
8. LSU (5-1)
9. TCU (6-0)
10. Oregon (6-1)
11. Georgia Tech (6-1)
12. BYU (6-1)
13. Boise State (6-0)
14. Virginia Tech (5-2)
15. Ohio State (5-2)
16. Houston (5-1)
17. Oklahoma State (5-1)
18. Kansas (5-1)
19. Penn State (6-1) 20. South Carolina (5-2)
21. Utah (5-1)
22. West Virginia (5-1)
23. Wisconsin (5-2)
24. Texas Tech (4-2)
25. Oklahoma (3-2)

Dropped Out: 16. Nebraska (4-2) 20. South Florida (5-1) 23. Auburn (5-2)

I hate being right

Friday I had 5 reasons that I was nervous about playing in Happy Valley (and actually, funny enough, playing in Happy Valley wasn't even one of them)... boy do I hate being right. 

Daryll Clark: 21-32, 65.6% completion, 287 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT.  Clark was effective, efficient, accurate, and generous, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers.  He found holes in our zone defense all day long and did exactly what you would expect the best QB in the Big Ten to do.

Penn State Rush Defense: gave up just 37 yards.  Need I say more?

Gopher Offense: rushed for just 37 yards and managed a whopping 138 yards total offense on the day.  Oh yeah, they also didn't score any points.  When I wrote that post on Friday, I struggled with whether or not to write that I was nervous about the Gopher offense in general, or Adam Weber particularly.  I would not have been wrong either way... but I'm sure we'll get to Weber later.

Penn State Rush Offense: coming into this game the Gophers were giving up 168 yards/game on the ground, and they continued that disturbing trend by giving up 177 yards in this game.  Penn State's numbers (177 yards rushing) were also right in line with their season average of 188.

Something to prove: although I'm still not 100% sure how good Penn State is (as the Gopher offense didn't do... well, anything, leading to the defense being on the field for most of the game), the Gophers didn't put up much of a fight (sigh), and Penn State had enough penalties that they let us think we were in the game for most of the day.  Having said all of that, I think Penn State proved that they are a good team.  However, if they play like they played against us when they face Iowa, OSU and Michigan, they might be in for a surprise.

Perhaps the most telling stat of the game, once again, is time of possession.
Penn State: 41:59
Minnesota: 18:01

I will be re-watching the game at some point this week, so I plan to dig into more specifics, but this loss is a bad one.  Our offense was once again exposed for what it is, and I am very concerned about what this game does for the psyche of our squad.

Well That Was Ugly

Ugh. What a game. What an awful game for the Gophers in every sense of the word. I did not watch the game live, but instead enjoyed a relaxing and fun weekend in the Boundary Waters with my wife and some friends of ours. Great weekend, went canoeing and hiking, and got to enjoy the great outdoors. We got home Sunday night and I was intent on watching the game I had saved on DVR. My wife kept telling me to watch it later, that we should finish season two of Madmen on Netflix instead. But no, stubbornly I insisted I HAD to watch this game!!!

Wish I had listened to my wife. Thanks to DVR I knocked it out in under an hour, but that's still an hour of my life I'll never get back. Wow was that ugly. Even the optimist of optimists would have trouble finding anything positive to say about the Gophers' 20-0 loss to Penn State. If you watched the game (and if you did I hope you had plenty of adult beverages on hand to ease the pain), you know the game was not as close as the score indicated. Not even remotely close.

After being stopped on their opening drive, Penn State rolled up and down the field on offense, with the Minnesota defense apparently only choosing to try to stop the Spread HD Nittany Lion offense once they got in the red zone, as they held them to a few field goals, with the Joe Pa's helping out with a missed chippy. Still, with absolutely nothing happening for the Gopher offense, the defense was eventually overwhelmed as Daryll Clark led them on a 12 play 101 yard drive (their second consecutive drive of over 100 yards of offense. Seriously) for a touchdown that put them up 13-0 and essentially sealed the game right then and there- with 7:02 still left to play in the first half.

The Nittany Lions added just one touchdown in the second half and had the ball only four times, but if was more than enough on this frigid day. Hell, all they would need was the first field goal they kicked on their second drive, as the Gophers crossed midfield ONCE all game, and came away with no points as they were stuffed on fourth-and-goal. With Halloween coming up, these numbers are as scary and goulish as anything you'll see:

Total offense: 138 yards (not in the half- the game)
Rushing yards: 37
yards per carry: 2.1
Net passing yards: 101
Time of Possession: 18:01

And just in case you're not clear on how bad that is, let me add this: Penn State has played a few truly terrible teams this year in 1-AA Eastern Illinois, Illinois (1-6), Akron (1-5), and Syracuse (2-4). ALL OF THEM had more yards on offense than Minnesota did Saturday. I am going to throw my remote control through the TV next time one of the freaking announcers talks about how offensive coordinator Jed Fisch is some kind of young offensive guru and WonderBoy. It happened again Saturday with Matt Millen (who was an incredible player both at Penn State and in the NFL, but has lost all credibility. Honestly, when you see the name Matt Millen or hear him speak, the first thing you think about is how horrible he was running the Detroit Lions, don't you? It's what you'll always think of. I cannot take him seriously as an announcer no matter what he says. I wonder when ABC will realize this) gushing about Fisch being a brilliant young offensive mind or some crap like that- all the while his team is putting up the least amount of yards Penn State has given up all season!?!?!?

I maintain there is talent on this offense, at least at the skill positions, and Fisch continues to squander it. I understand the blame being put on the offensive line for the running game, as they averaged a putrid 2.1 yards per game. Our backs are solid, but certainly not the quality of an Evan Royster, who can make something out of nothing, or a John Clay who can just run people over. Our backs saw no daylight and no holes to run through, and were bottled up almost as soon as they got the ball. Penn State, on the other hand, gave Evan Royster a bit of daylight and he did the rest. Royster, who IS the best back in the conference, showed what a talented back can do with even a little wiggle room. He had a couple of runs where he just got a crease at the line and then did the rest, either outrunning, or running over, Gopher defenders.

Anyway, the Gopher running game continues to suffer against good defenses. The passing game? I can't put all the blame on the line. Yep, quarterback Adam Weber appeared to be running for his life at times, but do you know how many times he was sacked? Once. Just once. I can't find any stats for how many times he was hurried or knocked down, but when you QB is sacked only once and he puts up the following stats, well, you can't blame your offensive line:

Adam Weber: 10-22 101 yards 0 TD's 1 pick

I dare anyone, really ANYONE, to defend Adam Weber at this point. Please, tell me why he should start another game in his Gopher career until MarQueis Gray gets an opportunity to start and prove he can't handle it. Anyone? Bueller? He is regressing badly in this his third season, and outside of Juice Williams at Illinois he's the worst starting quarterback in the Big Ten. We are now seven games into the season and his numbers are the worst they've been in THREE YEARS as a starter! Considering Gray got in for a grand total of zero plays Saturday tells me coach Tim Brewster and WonderBoy Jed Fisch are going to blindly and stubbornly stick with Weber because it's the safe thing to do, and they're trying to save face right now. Um, gentlemen? The ship is sinking, and the water is pouring in around you. Pulling your three year starter who has sucked for seven straight weeks for an uber-talented freshman is not going to make your fanbase revolt. It will actually show you're paying attention, that you're acknowledging there's a wee bit of a problem on offense and it starts with the guy under center. Honestly, 138 yards of offense: could Gray do any worse next week at Ohio State?

Speaking of which, don't start getting your hopes up for this week at Ohio State just because Purdue shocked the Buckeyes. Ohio State's offense is almost as bad as ours right now, but they were done in by turnovers, as QB Terrelle Pryor committed four of them (speaking of regression at quarterback- what the deuce is going on with Pryor?!?). The Boilermakers, who if you remember put up more than 400 yards of offense on us two weeks ago, finally had a game where they stopped giving the ball away while Ohio State couldn't stop giving it up to them. It was the perfect storm for a victory, and you better believe it will NOT happen again. The Buckeyes will be playing to save their season Saturday(if they win out, including a win over Iowa, they'd still win the Big Ten title), and they're not going to lay an egg twice in a row, especially at home.

Not only that, but despite their worst performance of the season against Purdue, Ohio State's 18 points, 12 first downs and 287 yards of offense would have been more than enough to beat Minnesota with the way the Gophers played last Saturday. Oh, and the Buckeyes defense is better than Penn State's too. So Coach Brewster, Wonderboy Fisch and the rest of the staff, it's back to the drawing board. I will continue to advocate to pull your starting quarterback, but short of that, we're going to have to hope for miracles on Saturday in The Shoe. We knew this two game stretch could be ugly, but this? This is ridiculous.

Friday, October 16, 2009

5 Reasons Penn State Makes Me Nervous

Last week I laid out 5 reasons why I was nervous about the Purdue game. I used lines from the song "Nervous" by Pat McCurdy to illustrate my points. I am not going to do that again... not because I didn't like doing it, but because there just aren't that many songs about nervousness. At least, not that many that I know. Plus, the McCurdy song is just perfection.


In the words of Pat McCurdy...

Here are the things that make me nervous
Here are the things that stick in my craw
Here are the things that make me nervous...

1. Daryll Clark. Remember back when we used to talk about the top QB's in the Big Ten and we always mentioned Adam Weber's name? And remember how that list used to include Weber as well as guy's like Terrelle Pryor and Daryll Clark too? If you put those three names on a list today you'd be able to play a pretty good game of "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong" because Daryll Clark does not belong on the same list as Weber and Pryor anymore.

Clark is the best QB in the Big Ten. He leads his team, he passes well, he's efficient and he knows how to win. Daryll Clark is worth being nervous about.

2. Penn State Rush Defense. Linbackah Yew is giving up just 173 passing yards/game, and under 82 rushing yards/game. Now we've all heard about how Penn State's stats are bloated because of who they play, but let's be honest here, the Gopher run game is, at best, inconsistent, and, at worst, bad. And we know how things go when we can't run the ball.

3. Gopher Offense. Our offense has struggled all year, no surprises there. But we are about to face one of the best defenses in the conference, and it could get ugly. The Gophers rank last in the Big Ten in yards/game,8th in points/game, 8th in 3rd down efficiency, and are tied for 7th in TD's scored. Not exactly setting the world on fire.

4. Penn State Rush Offense. Evan Royster leads a Nittany Lion rushing attack that is averaging 188.7 (3rd in the Big Ten) yards/game, and 5.4 yards/rush (1st in the Big Ten). Couple those numbers with the fact that we are giving up 162.7 yards/game (9th in the Big Ten), and you've got the makings of what could be a long day for the Gopher defense.

5. Something to prove. A lot of people think that Penn State is a bit overrated... the writers of this blog included. I've said it on the podcast and I will say it here, if the rankings didn't come out before the season, and they weren't released until after week 3 or 4 of the college football season, Penn State wouldn't even get a SNIFF of the Top 25. As it stands they started the year around #5 and based on the fact that their only loss is to a very good Iowa team, they haven't fallen that far.

But this squad has something to prove. While everyone else says they have played a cupcake schedule (because they have), the Nittany Lions believe that they are relevant on a conference and national level, and this week against the Gophers is when they set out to prove it. Their 6 final games are all against conference opponents and nothing is a given in this conference, so a win at home vs. Minnesota is a must for the Lions.

Penn State is favored by 17.5 points, but despite all of these things that make me nervous, I expect the Gophers to keep it close for at least 3 quarters. If Penn State wins by more than 2 touchdowns it will be because they have flat out worn us down by the end of the game.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Big Ten Picks Week 7

Illinois @ Indiana (6pm Big Ten Network)
After picking Illinois to pull an upset over Michigan State last week, I should probably receive an oh-fer every week for the rest of the year when it comes to picks. I deserve it for thinking a team that has laid down and out-and-out quit this year like the Not-Fightin' Illini (we need to come up with a name for the 2009 Ilini- what's the opposite of fighting? Lovin'? That would probably be the antithesis but even love has redeeming qualities to it. There is nothing redeeming about the Illini quitting on their season in the first few minutes of the first game. What's anti-fighting or anti-confrontation that has no redeemable qualities? I'm going with "tree huggers" until somebody comes up with something better) could have could possibly defended their home turf against a weak secondary like Michigan State. Once again, they didn't show up and Michigan State cruised to an easy win. So after that pathetic performance, the Tree Huggin' Illini go on the road in the Big Ten and HAVE to be touchdown underdogs at least right? RIGHT? Not when their opponent is Indiana, who despite all Illinois have done to suck this year, had the absolute no-doubt worst peformance of the season. Indiana went to Virginia and all 70 or so guys that made the trip went to midfield and just took a collective dump right there on the 50 yard line. IU got blown out 48-0 and the score still makes it seem much closer than it was. The Hoosiers couldn't have helped Virginia more if they would have just taken the ball on offense and handed it to the Cavs defense for touchdown after touchdown. And yet despite that, after getting burned by Illinois yet again, I'm STILL taking Indiana. Only because they're at home, and only because I'm not picking Illinois again the rest of the season.

Northwestern @ Michigan State (11am ESPN2)
I learned my lesson picking Illinois, as the Spartans were the obvious pick. But are the Spartans getting better or is Illinois just that bad? Michigan State continues to move the ball well through the air, but continue to give up yards through the air too. Guess what's the one thing Northwestern has done well so far? Yep, throw the ball. Still, I think Northwestern is one of the clear worst four teams (with the Indiana schools and the Tree Huggers), and while they'll be able to throw a bit, the Spartans will be too much at home.

Delaware State @ Michigan (11am Big Ten Network)
Will Tate Forcier play or won't he? Tune in to find out Saturday on the Big Ten Network!! Ok, ok there's no real way to hype this game- the Wolverines win in a landslide regardless of whether Forcier or Denard Robinson or Smokey Robinson is playing quarterback.

#7 Ohio State @ Purdue (11am Big Ten Network)
Um, I really have nothing interesting to add here. Ohio State might not win pretty, but they WILL win. Purdue just cannot stop turning the ball over, and if Ohio State can beat a good offensive team like Wisconsin with just their defense and special teams, what do you think they're going to do to the Boilermakers?

#11 Iowa @ Wisconsin (11am ESPN)
Before the season started I thought Wisconsin would win this game- and this was with predicted losses to Ohio State AND Minnesota. Well, the Badgers ended up beating the Gophers and have looked even better and more competent on offense than I thought, so I'm certainly not going to back off my prediction of Sconnie beating Iowa now. However, according to the fine folks in Vegas, this wouldn't even be an upset, as #11 Iowa is GETTING POINTS on the road. That speaks to how suspect people must think Iowa's undefeated start has been, as well as how much respect they have for Wisconsin at home. Just seeing that point spread makes me nervous for two reasons :
1) you have to believe Kirk Ferentz has been playing the "nobody believes in us" card all week to his players, and you don't want to pick against a team with a defense as good as Iowa's have been playing this year with the "nobody believes in us" mindset.
2) Bret Bielma is coaching the Badgers, not Barry Alvarez. With Alvarez's track record this game is a lead pipe lock for the Badgers. Bielma, on the other hand, is the same guy who in the second half of the Gopher game made tge genius decision "you know, John Clay has been pruning the hedges, raping the horses and riding off on the women of the Gopher defense all afternoon. They can't tackle him until he gains at least 10 yards. You know what? I think I'll put in Zach Brown" FUMMMMMBLLLLEEEE!!! So yeah, I don't trust Bielma in big games yet at all.
Yet I'm still sticking with the Badgers in a really, really, REALLY close game. I doubt both teams crack the 20 point mark, with the Badgers eeking out a 20-17 win or something like that. Tolzien plays much better at home, and the crowd will absolutely be a factor against Ricky Stanzi. The best matchup of the year thus far will be Iowa's front seven against Wisconsin's massive offensive line.

Minnesota @ #14 Penn State (2:30pm ABC)
I have no idea if Penn State's any good, but I do know they're better than the Gophers. To have a chance Minnesota needs a repeat of the 2nd and 3rd quarters from their win last Saturday- force turnovers and give the offense some short fields and confidence. When Iowa beat the Nittany Lions, weather was definitely a factor, but not as much as Iowa's D line wreaking havoc on Penn State's inexperience offensive line, and their secondary hounding the PSU receivers all night long. The Gophers' linebackers will need to be the ones to force turnovers and get after Daryll Clark, although Cedrick McKinley's return from suspension certainly won't hurt. Offensively the line needs to have the game of their lives, give the team a chance to run, and hope Weber gets enough time to be as efficient as he was against Air Force. As I said on the podcast, Penn State's secondary doesn't scare me and Decker could have a monster day- that is if Weber's got time to get rid of the ball. Penn State will finally have all three starting linebackers on the field for the first time since week one, and I'm thinking they're going to want to make up for lost time. Minnesota should cover the 17 point spread (not that I'd ever wager on a game- well except on Centsports) but I still see something like a 31-17 Penn State win.

Finally, Jer and I like to make a few bets on Centsports. It's of course legal because it's not real money so like wearing stretchy pants in your room, it's just for fun, but I thought I'd share five non-Big Ten Centsports bets I'm expecting to win this weekend:

Oklahoma (+3) vs Texas

Arkansas (+24.5) @ Florida

Southern California (-10) @ Notre Dame

Marshall @ West Virginia (-21)

Stanford (+4.5) @ Arizona

Mid-Season All-Big Ten

Ok so we're not halfway through the Big Ten conference schedule, but we certainly are halfway through the college football season, so you know what that means- awards! Judgements! Calling out the best and worst! It's really why we blog, isn't it? Well for that and the free beer and all the chicks. Ok, so it's just for the judgements and calling out.


Offensive Player of the Year
Eric Decker, WR, Sr, Minnesota
Decker has a conference leading 46 catches for 689 yards and five touchdowns, and all of this despite being really the only Gopher receiver opposing defenses have to defend. Not because the others aren't talented, but because unless he's on the sideline, the quarterback won't throw to anyone else. He has caught 47% of the teams' 97 catches, and has almost as many catches as the rest of the team combined. Seriously. No other team in the conference, or the country, has a larger descrepency between their top pass catcher and their second guy (Nick Tow-Arnett and Troy Stoudermire are tied for second with 13).

Defensive Player of the Year
O'Brien Schofield, DE/DT, Sr, Wisconsin
Narrowly edges Michigan State LB Greg Jones for the honor, but Schofield has been SO disruptive for a 5-1 Badger team I just can't give it to anyone else. He leads the conference in sacks with 6.5, tackles for loss with 14.5 (including 13 solo), and has also forced two fumbles.

Newcomer of the Year
Tate Forcier, QB, Fr, Michigan
There's been some very impressive freshman on the defensive side of the ball, but no newcomer has faced more pressure, or handled it better, than Forcier has thus far. He's been asked to carry the weight of an entire fanbase who expects nothing less than Big Ten titles and national championships, and though his numbers don't jump out at you, his late game heroics, especially in the win over Notre Dame, should give Wolverines fans a reason for optimism.

Coach of the Year
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (6-0)
Just admitting he's been the best coach in the conference thus far is about as kind as I can be to an Iowa Hawkeye.

TOP UNITS (Giggity)

Offensive Backfield
Best: Penn State
QB Daryll Clark, and tailbacks Evan Royster and Stephon Green have not disappointed, as the Nittany Lions lead in total offense, are third in scoring offense and rush offense and second in pass efficiency. Of course against that schedule, they'd better be.
Most Surprising: Michigan
The Wolverines are second in rush offense, have a conference high 15 TD's on the ground, and are leading the Big Ten in scoring offense. Nobody predicted that when the season started.
Most Disappointing: Ohio State
Yes, they're fourth in rushing offense, but they've scored just eight rushing touchdowns and are second worst in scoring offense. Much more was expected of Terrelle Pryor, and his stable of running backs have been just ok in replacing first round pick Beanie Wells.

Best: Michigan State
Blair White and BJ Cunningham lead a balanced group that are tops in the conference in passing offense and are tied in TD catches.
Most Surprising: Purdue
Yeah, we've come to expect a lot of passing and receiving yards at Purdue, but we didn't know what to expect with a new coach and a really unproven quarterback and wideouts. Yet junior Keith Smith and senior Aaron Valentin have come from nowhere to rank in the top six in both catches and receiving yards in the conference.
Most Disappointing: Illinois
You could probably put the Illini in this spot for every position, but the receiving core really takes the cake. They were expected to be not just the conference's best, but one of the nation's best groups, yet are second worst in pass offense and have a measly three TD receptions as a group.

Offensive Line
Best: Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers have the best rush offense, are third in total offense, and have given quarterback Scott Tolzien a chance to succeed, as he's been sacked just eight times. By the way, I'd be lying if I told you I have any idea who the best individual linemen in the conference have been. I don't. I don't have "pancake" stats or gametape to know enough of who has done what, so I'm not even going to pretend by naming individual offensive linemen for the first team. Try not to think less of me.
Most Surprising: Michigan State
The Spartans have given up a league low 6 sacks, which is even more impressive considering MSU is fourth in pass attempts. The Spartans are fourth in scoring offense and total offense because their line is giving the QB's time and opening holes for the young running backs.
Most Disappointing: Minnesota
The new downhill, straight-forward blocking schemes were supposed to work wonders for what was to be an improved offensive line. Instead, they've been the Gophers most disappointing unit (unless we can count Adam Weber? No? Anyone?) as they rank dead last in total offense, rushing offense, are second last in sacks allowed, and have had a rash of dumb penalties. The run game looked much improved against Purdue so there's hope, but through six games they haven't been anywhere near good enough.

Defensive Line
Best: Ohio State
There's some REALLY good D-lines in this conference right now, especially in Columbus, Happy Valley, and Iowa City. But I'm taking the Buckeyes group because they've played the toughest schedule of the three thus far, especially last week after handling a really big and tough Badger offensive line so well.
Most Surprising: Wisconsin
They owe a large part of this to Schofield, but the group has been better than expected and has helped lead the turnaround in Madison.
Most Disappointing: Michigan
Not that the Wolverines have been awful, but they were certainly expected to be better than 10th in total defense, ninth in sacks, and eighth in rush defense.

Best: Minnesota
We liked Minnesota's trio of Lee Campbell, Simoni Lawrence and Nate Triplett before the season, but we had no idea they'd be this good, especially Triplett, whose breakout year has elevated this unit from good to great so far. Triplett and Campbell are tied for the Big Ten lead in solo tackles with 41 apiece, and both are averaging at least 10 tackles a game. It should also be noted that Penn State will finally have their three starters on the field this weekend for the first time since week 1, and if they can stay healthy, have the talent to be the conference's best by season end. But at the halfway point, you can't argue for anybody else but the Gophers.
Most Surprising: Minnesota
Sorry to give them two awards, but they've been this good, and this surprisingly good.
Most Disappointing: Illinois
A big improvement was expected, but with injury to leader Martez Wilson, the bottom has completely fallen out of this group, the defense, and the team.

Defensive Backs
Best: Iowa
The "Ball Hawk"-eyes lead the conference in pass defense, picks (12), and are the only Big Ten defense to hold opposing QB's to under a 50% completion percentage.
Most Surprising: Penn State
Again, they've been to the Glen Mason School of Scheduling, so it's tough to get a read on whether Penn State's inexperience secondary is really this good or whether their competition (with the exception of Iowa) have been this bad. We'll get a much better idea in the second half.
Most Disappointing: Michigan State
Yikes, what is going on in East Lansing? Not only did the Spartans return plenty of talent in their secondary, but head coach Mark Dantonio's specialty is as a secondary coach! If you want the biggest reason for Sparty's disappointing season, here's your answer: MSU is third worst in pass defense while allowing a league high 13 TD passes while only picking off four passes. They're also dead last in red zone defense, giving up 11 TD's, eight of them through the air.

All Big Ten Midseason Team

QB Daryll Clark, Sr, Penn State
HB John Clay, Jr, Wisconsin
HB Ralph Bolden, So, Purdue
WR Eric Decker, Sr, Minnesota
WR Keith Smith, Jr, Purdue
TE Garrett Graham, TE, Wisconsin

DL O'Brien Schofield, Sr, Wisconsin
DL Jamie Kirlew, Sr, Indiana
DL Brandon Graham, Sr, Michigan
DL Karl Klug, Jr, Iowa
LB Greg Jones, Sr, Michigan State
LB Lee Campbell, Sr, Minnesota
LB Nate Triplett, Sr, Minnesota
CB Donovan Warren, Jr, Michigan
CB Brett Greenwood, Jr, Iowa
S Kurt Coleman, Sr, Ohio State
S Tyler Sash, So, Iowa