You’d be better off betting on Minnesota as a 30-point favorite than taking some Big Ten football coaches’ words from mid-week media availabilities at face value.
They’re not lying — but they’re also not giving much away, which is how we get Michigan football’s Jim Harbaugh pontificating on “Energy. Energy just finds the ball, whether you’re on defense or you’re on offense. The ball finds you.”
Or Ohio State’s Ryan Day on his squad’s confidence against Akron, which last beat a Big Ten team in the last cent… er, never mind. (Sorry, Northwestern.) Still, Day wasn’t shedding a lot of light on the Buckeyes’ mood: “Sometimes it feels like we’re really far away, but we’re not, so we’ll just keep pushing forward. But we also can’t be fake. It can’t be fake confidence. It’s got to be real confidence because we’re going to get into conference play here really soon.”
But then there’s Michigan State football’s Mel Tucker, who was definitive this week (and channeling Bill Belichick) when describing how his Spartans were going to stop Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez on Saturday:
U-M REPORT CARD: Offense stumbles while defense and special teams do just enough
MSU REPORT CARD: Extra credit for game-changing punt return call
And then the Spartans went out and backed him up, with a second half featuring some of the worst stats — zero first downs (by the Spartans! Five three-and-outs (also by the Spartans)! Four rushes for two yards (by Kenneth Walker III)! — we’ve seen since, well, OK, since the second half of Michigan’s game against Rutgers. (In which the “energy” apparently left early to pregame for UFC 266, leaving the Wolverines to stumble to 42 total yards in the third and fourth quarters.)
Then again, there are some stats that are hard to wrap our minds around, fake confidence or no. The Spartans were three points better than the struggling Cornhuskers, while the Wolverines were seven points better than a surging Rutgers team. And yet, MSU’s victory feels far less miserable than U-M’s. Maybe that’s because of the differing spreads: MSU was favored by 4½ points, U-M by as few as 18½ and as many as 20½.
Or maybe it’s because we’re still getting used to seeing Nebraska stumble over the ottoman at the entrance of the Big Ten, while we’re just getting used to the thought of Rutgers not face-planting into the carpet. (Not TOO used to it; they’ve still handed U-M eight straight wins.)
But while we’re figuring that out, let’s run through the misery index, from least miserable to most:
14. Ohio State: W, 59-7, over Akron
Record: 3-1, 1-0 Big Ten. Last week: 6.
We joke about the Buckeyes being the Big Ten’s version of a professional team — though nobody in Columbus has stepped up with a stipend … yet — and then they go and have linebacker K’Vaughan Pope literally quit in the middle of a game (and Tweet about it). It’s no op-ed in the New York Times, but tweeting, “(expletive) Ohio State,” will certainly play with the 13 other fanbases in the conference, eh?
Also, the Buckeyes still covered a 48½-point spread despite resting their starting quarterback the whole time. Pros to the end.
13. Penn State: W, 38-17, over Villanova
Record: 4-0, 1-0. Last week: 14.
The Nittany Lions hadn’t beaten the Wildcats in football since 1935. Sure, they hadn’t played since 1951, but we’re still kinda disappointed the kids in Happy Valley didn’t storm the field. (Penn State’s last — and only — win in basketball came in 1998.) Maybe ’Nova can get a rematch in the Palestra.
12. Maryland: W, 37-16, over Kent State
Record: 4-0, 1-0. Last week: 5.
Taulia Tagovailoa passed for 384 yards, giving him four 300-yards games – tied for third in school history — in eight starts. His brother, Tua, was placed on injured reserve in the NFL on Friday, leaving all the Tagovailoa family passing ability to flow into Taulia for the next three weeks, “Highlander”-style. (That’s how it works, right?)
Record: 4-0, 2-0. Last week: 13.
Presented for Spartans’ fans enjoyment: the Spanish-language Nebraska radio call of Chester Kimbrough’s interception in overtime.
10. Rutgers: L, 20-13, to Michigan
Record: 3-1, 0-1. Last week: 10.
A snapshot from Saturday: Early in the second quarter, on fourth-and-one, quarterback Noah Vedral and running back Isaih Pacheco scrambled around in pre-snap confusion over the play call, before Pacheco rushed toward the line for a designed quick snap as part of a trick play. Pacheco didn’t get the first down — he mishandled the ball and was swallowed in the line — but we remember a time not so long ago that the Scarlet Knights wouldn’t have been faking the confusion.
9. Michigan: W, 20-13, over Rutgers
Record: 4-0, 1-0. Last week: 12.
Harbaugh described the narrow victory over the Scarlet Knights fairly abruptly for a coach crowing about points-per-possession a couple weeks ago: “Gritty game. It wasn’t pretty, but when they start making a space for pretty on the scoreboard then we’ll worry about that.” In other news, Ohio State announced plans for a massive scoreboard renovation.
TROUBLE UNDER CENTER?: Michigan fans’ cries for J.J. McCarthy intensify after Cade McNamara struggles
8. Indiana: W, 33-31, over Western Kentucky
Record: 2-2, 0-1. Last week: 1.
Big Ten teams combined to throw for 432 yards against teams based in Bowling Green on Saturday. Hoosiers QB Michael Penix Jr. had 373 of those yards against the one in Kentucky.
8. Northwestern: W, 35-6, over Ohio
Record: 2-2, 0-1. Last week: 3.
Running back Evan Hull broke off a 90-yard TD run in the first quarter. Ryan Hilinski, the Wildcats’ third QB this season, needed 12 completions (on 20 attempts) to reach 88 yards for the game. Perhaps not unrelated, coach Pat Fitzgerald hasn’t committed to a starter under center next week against Nebraska.
BIG TEN MISERY INDEX RECAP
6. Iowa: W, 24-14, over Colorado State
Record: 4-0, 1-0. Last week: 9.
The Hawkeyes went into the half trailing CSU — which lost to FCS opponent South Dakota State in Week 1 — by a touchdown, and for a minute, we thought coach Kirk Ferentz was going to upstage rival (and “Floyd of Rosedale” opponent) PJ Fleck (whose Gophers had just lost a best-in-the-Big-Ten 21-game nonconference winning streak) with the most surprising loss of the day, sort of a “any way you can lose, I can lose better”-type thing. But then the Hawkeyes scored two touchdowns over four plays in the third quarter, and now they have the longest nonconference winning streak in the B1G, at 15.
5.Purdue: W, 13-9, over Illinois
Record: 3-1, 1-0. Last week: 4.
A win’s a win, but the old saying, “Never wrestle with a pig; you’ll both get dirty, and, besides, the pig likes it,” seems to go a long way toward explaining why the Boilermakers needed more than 54 minutes — and the services of their backup quarterback, who threw picks on his first two series — to find the end zone once at home. (So too, does the absence of star receiver David Bell, two top running backs, and tight end Payne Durham.)
4. Illinois: L, 13-9, to Purdue
Record: 1-4, 1-2. Last week: 2.
The Illini started the season atop the Big Ten, if only on the technicality that no other team had won in the conference; they’re now a game and a half back of the overall leader, Michigan State. (Though only a game back of West leaders Iowa and, yes, Purdue.) That’s a fall so quick we had to double-check if there was a draft in May for Bret Bielema to tank for. (Unless you have a better reason for Bielema’s call to punt on fourth-and-two from the Boilermakers’ 34 with 9:33 left and a 9-6 lead?)
3. Nebraska: L, 23-20 (OT), to Michigan State
Record: 2-3, 0-2. Last week: 7.
Say this for the Huskers of Corn: Considering their three losses this season are mostly the result of special teams flubs, those flubs have come in remarkably unique fashion: a return gaffe in Week 0 vs. Illinois, multiple missed kicks last week vs. Oklahoma —though, to be fair, kicker Conner Culp had been consistently awful all season, right up until he was finally perfect vs. MSU — and screwups from TWO punters on Saturday night, including a mystifying disconnect between one punter and the punt-coverage squad that resulted in a game-tying score. Why, it’s enough to make an embattled coach rant after the game. Take it away, Scott Frost! “We have guys at the university specifically for the reason to punt it,” Frost said. “And we had a couple of 10-yard punts that almost cost us, and right when we needed it the most we kicked it to the wrong side of the field. Some of the coverage guys didn’t see it and it cost us the game.”
2. Wisconsin: L, 41-13, to Notre Dame
Record: 1-2, 0-1. Last week: 8.
Quarterback Graham Mertz threw five touchdowns in his first start for the Badgers (while completing 20 of 21 passes) Oct. 23 against Illinois. It took him another nine games —culminating in Saturday’s loss — to throw another five TDs, with 11 interceptions (including two pick-sixes in the final 150 seconds on Saturday in Chicago).
1. Minnesota: L, 14-10, to Bowling Green
Record: 2-2, 0-1. Last week: 11.
Minnesota hired Fleck with the hope of getting a big-time coach on the come-up. Hey, if there’s one thing big-time coaches do, it’s drop games in which they’re favored by three or four touchdowns, as the Gophers were Saturday against the Falcons. Just ask Lloyd Carr … or Jim Harbaugh.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big Ten football: Michigan, MSU prove ‘stats are for losers’
- / 1 week ago
When an opportunity is sitting right in front of you to win the next...
- / 1 week ago
Didn’t see a post put up #FOR THE CHAIR #[Join us in the Discord...