Thursday, November 29, 2012

Grade Michigan's 2012 season

Brady Hoke set a high standard for Michigan when he took the job, indicating that anything less than a Big Ten Championship is a disappointment.
While that is the right thing to say to the fan base, I can’t say I agree with the mindset.
Certainly Michigan is a team that should go into each season expecting to contend for the Big Ten title and be among the favorites to win it. But last season saw the Wolverines get 11 wins with no title. That is not a failure.
This season, Michigan again finds itself out of the running for the Big Ten title, but the season wasn’t a complete wash.
Unlike last year, I would say this season has been somewhat disappointing.
The Wolverines went 8-4, but three of their losses seemed like very winnable games.
Michigan could have beaten Notre Dame had it held on to the football.
It seemed that Michigan could have beaten Nebraska had Devin Gardner been prepared to backup an injured Denard Robinson. I wouldn’t say that the Wolverines definitely would have won that game, but the offense clearly would have been more productive than it was with Russell Bellomy at quarterback.
Against Ohio State, the game seemed to be Michigan’s for the taking, but a lack of adjustments on offense allowed the Buckeyes to squeak out a victory.
You can read more into Michigan’s season by the four losses than the eight wins. Truth is, Michigan failed to beat the good teams it faced this year. Of the eight wins, the best win seems to be against Northwestern (9-3), but it took a late miracle to get the win, and I don’t think many view the Wildcats as a nationally respected program.
Michigan did end the losing streak to Michigan State, which it needed to do, but the Spartans’ 6-6 record takes a little steam away from what that victory meant for the season outlook.
Overall, the offense wasn’t as explosive this season and the defense was just a shade worse than it was a year ago.
An 8-4 record is okay this year, but if Brady Hoke wants to live up to the standards he set when he took the job, things have to get better next year. The Big Ten was not that strong this season. There is no telling that it will be this weak again in the future.
Given the record and the quality of victories Michigan had, I give them a grade of a B-. I am hesitant to say C because Michigan still won eight games and could get a solid bowl victory. I don’t think the Wolverines deserved a B because of the lack of quality wins and the failure to make the Big Ten Championship Game.
What are your thoughts on Michigan’s season?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Grade MSU's 2012 football season

The 2012 regular season is complete for Michigan State, and the final record is 6-6.
I am sure I am not alone when I say I didn’t expect that.
Coming into the season, the Spartans had some questions, but none of them seemed worrisome enough to keep MSU from having a winning record.
Despite the new quarterback and young receivers most expected MSU to be carried by its strong defense and be a contender in the Big Ten race.
To a degree, the expectations played out on the defensive side of the ball. The Spartans led the Big Ten in points and yards allowed per game and were 10th nationally in defensive scoring, allowing just 16.3 points per contest.
Where things all went wrong was on offense. The Spartans averaged just 20.3 points per game, which was down nearly 11 points from last year’s average (31.0).
Early on, the receivers were dropping passes. Midseason, the offensive line was banged up and not providing enough running lanes for Le’Veon Bell and pass protection for Andrew Maxwell. At the end of the year, Maxwell looked like he wasn’t progressing as he should.
The Spartans never really clicked as an offense outside of a lopsided win at Central Michigan. It will be a concern heading into next season with a defense that can’t be expected to be as strong as it has been the last two years.
It’s not a big surprise to call this year a disappointing one for Michigan State. It’s not just about a 6-6 record, or a 3-5 Big Ten record, or even an 0-5 conference record at home. The Spartans took more than a step back. They completely fell flat on their back.
The momentum MSU built the previous two seasons to be recognized as a legit program in the national spotlight has been lost. It will take some work to get back to that point.
For all those reasons, I give Michigan State a D for the season. The only reason I don’t given them an F is because they did manage to make a bowl. A losing record would have been the absolute failure in my eyes.
What are your thoughts on this season for MSU?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Final thoughts on Michigan/OSU, MSU/Minnesota

I expected there to be plenty to talk about following Saturday’s games, and there is. There were interesting developments for both Michigan and Michigan State in their regular season finales. Here are my thoughts on both team’s performances on Saturday.

Michigan 21, Ohio State 26
This is a game that looked to be Michigan’s for the taking at halftime, but an awful second half on offense kept the Wolverines from getting a big win in Columbus.
The fumbles are one thing. They happen. Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner could have tried to do a better job of protecting the ball, but ultimately, I thought it was the play calling that cost Michigan in this one.
Throughout the game, especially in the second half, I kept saying to myself: “Denard has to throw one of these times, right?”
But the clock kept ticking, and each time Robinson took the field, it was a run play. Not only was it a run play, it wasn’t a real creative run play.
Eventually Ohio State figured out what everyone in the world had figured out, that if Robinson is taking the snap, it is a run. The Buckeyes could commit their entire defense to stopping the run, which it did. The Wolverines couldn’t convert third downs because they were essentially giving away what they were doing based on who took the snap.
I know Robinson broke the big 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but he was unable to do anything in the second half because Ohio State adjusted to the way Michigan used him.
I had no problem with Robinson being on the field, but Michigan needed to have him on the field with Gardner to keep the Ohio State defense honest. Michigan showed those looks in the first half, but went away from them in the second half.
Michigan needed to have Robinson throw a short pass or two to not make it obvious what was coming when he was taking the snaps.
If Robinson was still not healthy enough to throw a slant or even a bubble screen, then why put him under center at all?
I expected the defense to play worse than it did. Ohio State still had nearly 400 yards, but I thought the Wolverines did a good job of containing Miller’s running ability and they also held strong in some tough spots when the offense turned the ball over.
I was surprised Brady Hoke decided to go for it on 4th and 3 from the Michigan 48 to open the second half. It may have been a different game had it worked out, but I thought there was more risk than reward in that case. I don’t think it cost Michigan the game, but it certainly gave a big momentum swing to the Buckeyes to open the second half.
Saturday’s loss certainly puts a negative on the season perspective for the Wolverines. An 8-4 season is clearly not bad, but no Legends Division title and a loss to Ohio State has to be considered a disappointment, especially when the conference was so up for grabs this year.
Three of Michigan’s four losses this season seemed to be games they could have won with a few changes here or there. The Wolverines controlled their destiny for the most part and couldn’t find their way to a championship when it was there for the taking.

Michigan State 26, Minnesota 10
A win to go 6-6 doesn’t turn MSU’s season from awful to good, but the Spartans came out and put on one of their best performances of the season.
The defense was dominant again, allowing just 99 yards of offense from the Gophers. It doesn’t matter who you are playing, it is difficult to hold a team under 100 yards of offense.
Le’Veon Bell was once again a work horse, pounding out 265 yards on 36 carries.
Andrew Maxwell struggled with accuracy, going just 13 of 29 passing. That has to be concerning at this stage of the season. Maxwell has not taken many strides throughout the course of the season that would give MSU fans much confidence for next season.
But, getting back to the overall point on this game, Michigan State fans should be happy that their team didn’t quit. It would have been easy to.
The Spartans came in with high expectations this season and missed them all by a wide margin. Making a bowl isn’t something that players can often get up for when they had hopes for a conference championship.
I give credit to the Spartans for not wanting to end their season on Saturday. A bowl victory can still salvage a little something to build on for next season.
But, make no mistake, this season has still been a step back for the program.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Predictions for Michigan/OSU, MSU/Minnesota

Saturday marks the end of the regular season for both Michigan and Michigan State, with both teams playing very meaningful games. Here are my predictions for both contests.

Michigan at Ohio State
This game really feels like more than just an annual rivalry game. Ohio State is looking to get an undefeated season while Michigan is seeking a ninth win. Both coaches (Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke) are looking to make a statement against the other for the sake of the rivalry.
I expect this game to be similar to last year’s game, where it is an offensive showcase that could come down to the final possession. I think Ohio State will be able to move the ball on the Michigan defense thanks to the play-making ability of Braxton Miller. I think the Wolverines will also be able to find plenty of offense against an Ohio State defense that isn’t all that strong. I think Michigan will pull out all the stops on offense, incorporating Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson at multiple positions to keep the Buckeyes guessing.
Ultimately, I see the Buckeyes winning this one. This game means everything to Ohio State (no offense, Michigan fans). With no bowl game and no Big Ten Championship opportunity, this is the national title game for Ohio State. Meyer has built this game up to be everything for the fan base and the players, and it will take place in the Horseshoe. I think Michigan puts up a fight, but Ohio State finds a way to win in the closing moments.
Ohio State 34, Michigan 31

Michigan State at Minnesota
I know it’s easy to assume that MSU will just waltz in to Minnesota and win and become bowl eligible, but what have the Spartans done this year to prove that would be a given?
Mark Dantonio may have guaranteed victory in his weekly press conference, but the only guarantee I expect is that this game will come down to the final possession just like all other MSU games.
Minnesota has plenty to play for here, just like the Spartans. The Gophers are seeking their first 7-win season since 2008 and head coach Jerry Kill came under fire this week from former player, A.J. Walker. There will be plenty of Minnesota players that will look to rally around Kill and get him a big win to end the regular season.
I am still going to pick Michigan State, as the Spartans are more desperate for the win. A loss for MSU would make an awful season even worse. I don’t expect it to be pretty, but some way, the Spartans will find a way to win.
Michigan State 20, Minnesota 17

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roushar the easy target for MSU's struggles

There is plenty of blame to go around at Michigan State this season for the Spartans’ current 5-6 record.
Of all of the blame that is getting passed out, it seems the most is going on second-year offensive coordinator, Dan Roushar.
It seems fair to say that the MSU defense has played better than the 5-6 record this year, which means that the offense is coming up short.
When you look at where the Spartans fit in the Big Ten picture, they currently rank 11th in scoring (19.7 ppg), ninth in yards (365.7 ypg), fourth in passing (2,482 yards) and ninth in rushing (1,541 yards).
In the national aspect, MSU ranks 110th in the nation in scoring, 70th in passing and 89th in rushing.
Another big stat working against Roushar this year is scoring in the red zone. The Spartans have scored at least a field goal in 32 of 39 red zone appearances this year, but have just 20 touchdowns in those 39 opportunities.
Settling for field goals instead of touchdowns has been a crucial reason for why Michigan State has come up short, especially when you consider its five Big Ten losses have come by a combined 13 points.
Roushar is just the play caller, and it takes the players to execute the plays that are called. But when the same issues come up week after week, someone has to shoulder the responsibility.
Against Northwestern, the Spartans fumbled in the red zone on a third and one, and later, were stopped on a fourth and goal from the 1-yard line as Le’Veon Bell was hit for a 3-yard loss as soon as he touched the ball.
The Spartans have had injury issues this year and have worked in a lot of new pieces at receiver, and certainly at quarterback with Andrew Maxwell replacing Kirk Cousins.
But the numbers have taken a dramatic dip from last year as MSU averaged 31 points per game.
So, should the blame be on Roushar, or should it be on the likes of Maxwell and the offensive players?
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio says the blame should be on him. He pointed that out during his weekly press conference on Tuesday saying:
“The responsibility for how we play, falls on me. That’s how it’s got to be. Everybody is soul searching, but it has to start at the top and trickle down, and that’s with me.”
Dantonio also said that evaluating his assistants is about a lot more than just what happens on the field.
Dantonio has always been a loyal guy and protective of his staff and players. Roushar has been with MSU since Dantonio has been head coach and the two were together for two years at Cincinnati. It would be surprising to see Dantonio fire Roushar after one bad season, but the pressure will be on Roushar next season to improve the offensive numbers and help improve the win total.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Devin and Denard - what could have been

Last Saturday saw another sizeable win for the Michigan football team, but it came in a little different style.
After missing the last two games with an injury to his elbow, Denard Robinson returned to the field against Iowa and was creatively used alongside backup quarterback Devin Gardner.
Robinson didn’t throw a pass in the game. He was instead used as a running back and a receiver.
Defenses still had to respect Robinson for his speed and his quickness while Gardner remained the quarterback. Gardner finished with 314 yards passing and three touchdowns while running for two more scores.
The Michigan offense totaled over 500 yards and looked as good as it has all season, but the real question is, why now?
Obviously the answer for Saturday was to get Robinson on the field for his final home game with Michigan.
But, when you see what this offense is capable of with Gardner at quarterback and Robinson used as a running back/receiver, you have to scratch your head at why this wasn’t implemented earlier. Last season saw Gardner take some occasional snaps at quarterback with Robinson, but it wasn’t anything like what we saw on Saturday.
Could this combination have helped in games against Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska?
Digging up this kind of success this late in the season doesn’t do much good for Michigan outside of possibly beating Ohio State, but even a win over the Buckeyes won’t get them a Big Ten title unless Nebraska loses.
Is it fair to say that Brady Hoke and the Michigan coaching staff missed the boat here?
Coaches always say they have to put their best 11 on the field each week.
It is starting to appear that the Wolverines haven’t had their best lineup on the field most of the season.

What are your thoughts on how Michigan used Robinson/Gardner against Iowa

Friday, November 16, 2012

Predictions for Michigan/Iowa & MSU/Northwestern

Another Saturday of college football is upon us. Here are my predictions for the two games taking place.

Iowa at Michigan
I think this is a game Michigan can win with some ease. The Hawkeyes are a mess right now, having lost four straight. The Michigan defense shouldn’t break much of a sweat to keep the Iowa offense in check and the Wolverines should continue to build off their offensive performances of the last two weeks. Devin Gardner has played well thus far at quarterback and I expect that to continue. If Denard Robinson is given his shot to play in what is his final home game, I think he will come through with some big plays. Essentially, anything less than a comfortable win would be surprising to me. Michigan needs to carry some momentum into next week against Ohio State and Iowa is a perfect opponent for that to happen.
Michigan 31, Iowa 13

Northwestern at Michigan State
Despite MSU’s strength against the run defensively, I still expect Northwestern to be able to move the ball on the ground. The Wildcats have found a way to be competitive in every game this year and I don’t see that changing against the Spartans. For the MSU offense, I expect a solid showing, as the Wildcats are giving up nearly 400 yards per game. Le’Veon Bell will get his chance to shine, but I think it will be the MSU passing game that ultimately guides it to a victory. We have seen the Wildcats give up big plays in the secondary recently and Michigan State should look to attack them deep. I do think this game will be close and come down to the end, but I see the Spartans edging the Wildcats to become bowl eligible.
Michigan State 24, Northwestern 20

Is a win for MSU on Saturday worth celebrating?

As Michigan still fights for a potential spot in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday against Iowa, Michigan State finds itself with an important game as well, though the rewards are not nearly as sweet.
A win over Northwestern at home on Senior Day will make the Spartans bowl eligible.
I think it is fair to say that few expected it to take to Game 11 for Michigan State to get bowl eligible this year.
Coming into the season, expectations were high for the Spartans. Whether it be a Big Ten Championship or a 10-win season, few saw MSU doing all it could to have winning record at the end of the year.
Saturday will be telling for Michigan State for a few reasons.
The first will be if the Spartans can beat an above-average Northwestern team.
The Wildcats proved last week that they aren’t to be overlooked and certainly Michigan State hasn’t proven it can look past anyone. If you can’t beat Iowa at home, you can’t just step on the field at Spartan Stadium and expect to walk through Northwestern.
However, if Michigan State wants to remain a program that has some high expectations, it has to win this game.
The second reason this game will be telling is on how the Spartans (players and fans) celebrate if they do win.
Is getting bowl eligible a big enough accomplishment for the program?
Mark Dantonio has led MSU to a bowl in each of his five seasons as coach. That is an accomplishment to be proud of given the Spartans were shutout of the bowl season three straight years before his arrival.
However, Dantonio had been building Michigan State into something more than just a bowl team, as MSU had been at the forefront of the Big Ten title picture the last two seasons.
As an outsider, I consider this to be a disappointing season for Michigan State. The Spartans should have expected more and shouldn’t be satisfied with a 6-or-7-win season.
When you consider the talent on the defensive side of the ball, this was a prime opportunity for Michigan State to contend for the Big Ten title.
Ohio State is unable to contend for the title and Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin have all arguably played below expectations.
You can also expect all four of those teams to keep getting better, which may leave the Spartans as the odd team out in the Big Ten picture for the future.
It’s not crazy to think most of the top talent on MSU’s team this year could be gone next year. Le’Veon Bell and William Gholston have to consider moving on to the NFL when you think of the injury risks that come with going through another season.
Should Spartan fans just be happy with making a bowl game year-in and year-out, or should it expect to win a Big Ten Championship and play in the Rose Bowl once every handful of years?
MSU needs to define its expectations and decide if it wants to be an average program or if it wants to be a force in the Big Ten.
Last year when the Detroit Lions made the playoffs, head coach Jim Schwartz said “There's going to come a time when we don't celebrate going to the playoffs, or getting into the playoffs. It's not going to be tonight.”
Tomorrow (if MSU wins) will not be a time for celebrating. If the Spartans really want to be considered in the same discussion as Michigan as a football program, you don’t celebrate just making a bowl.
Making a bowl should be the first in a long list of goals and expectations each year if you are going to be a great program.
The Wolverines have already locked up a bowl win, but their fan base is still largely upset with the season because Michigan doesn’t control its own destiny in the Big Ten race with two games left.
I know this comes off like a Michigan fan belittling Michigan State, but it’s not.
The Wolverines were awful during the Rich Rodriguez era and I wasn’t sure Michigan’s expectations would ever get back to where they were when Lloyd Carr was coach.
But, Brady Hoke arrived, won 11 games last year and is in contention to win 10 this season if it wins out.
Hoke has essentially created his own monster because now Michigan fans won’t tolerate a letdown season. He must get to nine wins or more each year, and even some won’t accept that.
So, to get back to my point, will MSU fans accept this season? Is it okay for Mark Dantonio to have this team win just six or seven games? Should he feel some pressure going into next season if he can’t get MSU back to 8-to-10 wins?
It’s a thin line, but what side you stand on in this argument defines your expectations for what the MSU program should be.

Is becoming bowl eligible an accomplishment in college football

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Le'Veon Bell an All-American?

Le’Veon Bell is a big part of what the Michigan State offense has done this year.
His value to the Spartans is obviously high.
But, just where does Bell sit amongst running backs in the national picture?
Early in the season, Bell was being mentioned as an All-American candidate.
Phil Steele actually listed him as a midseason First Team All-American.
Bell currently ranks ninth in the nation in total rushing yards (1,249) and 12th in rushing yards per game (124.9).
But, of any players with over 1,000 yards rushing this season, Bell has the second-most carries (283) and is last in yards per carry (4.4).
I would credit his low yards per carry to the injuries to the offensive line for Michigan State. Bell doesn’t seem to get much help in terms of big running lanes being opened for him.
A lot is being asked of Bell. In each game that he has rushed for over 100 yards this season, it has taken a minimum of 29 carries to do it.
Bell’s early-season hype has certainly died down. That is in part due to Michigan State’s struggles as a team and in part due to his production lowering a little bit.
His top two rushing performances were in the first four games of the season.
His pass catching production has dropped significantly. Bell has just nine receptions for 20 yards over his last five games. He had 20 catches for 133 yards in the first five games of the season.
Bell has also yet to have that marquee play to lift Michigan State to a win since the victory over Boise State. Against the Broncos, Bell looked like a monster and played like one too. We haven’t really seen that since.
Bell has picked up the yards, but it has been in short chunks. When given the opportunity to really make the big play late, it seems Bell hasn’t done it. The loss to Michigan comes to mind when he had the chance to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get that last yard needed.
Again, it’s hard to criticize Bell too much because he has taken on a giant work load already this season.
He is a talented back and a big contributor for the Spartans, but I don’t feel he is at the All-American level.
If Bell elects to return for a senior season, he will be an All-American candidate, but he will need to lead the Spartans to better than a .500 record.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gardner or Robinson?

Denard Robinson is a polarizing player.
Obviously Robinson is a tremendous athlete.
He has put up historic numbers as a member of the Michigan football team, but he hasn’t been able to win over the entire Wolverine fan base.
There is a significant part of the fan base that feels Robinson is what is keeping Michigan from truly taking a step forward at the national level.
Their point has been emphasized over the last two games with the play of Devin Gardner.
Gardner, who also has the capability to run or pass, has shown much better passing abilities than Robinson.
Over the last two weeks, Gardner is 28 of 47 passing for 520 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also rushed for 68 yards and three scores.
In Robinson’s starts this year, he has thrown for over 210 yards in just one game. He has nine passing touchdowns with nine interceptions.
What he lacks in passing, he makes up for in rushing, as he has rushed for 946 yards and six touchdowns.
Saturday’s game with Iowa marks the final home game for seniors, including Robinson.
On Monday, during his weekly press conference, Brady Hoke indicated that Robinson is still day-to-day with his elbow injury that has lingered on into its third week.
When asked if senior day will impact his decision to get Robinson in the game against the Hawkeyes, Hoke indicated that Robinson’s health is the only thing that will impact whether he plays or not.
I would suspect that Michigan can beat Iowa with Robinson or Gardner under center. The real question is about Ohio State.
Will the Wolverines need a consistent passing effort to win in Columbus? If so, do Michigan fans trust that Robinson can be the player to provide that effort?
Robinson did go 14 of 17 passing for 167 yards and three scores against the Buckeyes last year, but I suspect that Ohio State’s defense will be stronger this year with Urban Meyer as coach and the added emphasis on beating Michigan this year since the Buckeyes can’t compete in postseason play.
That is just my opinion.
What is your opinion? Give me your vote as to who you think should be Michigan’s quarterback going forward.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Final thoughts on Michigan's win over Northwestern

Northwestern is a name doesn’t bring out a lot of fear in college football fans, but the Wildcats have been a pretty good team this year and I had a feeling that Saturday’s game would be a tight one.
I predicted Michigan winning 31-24, so I am happy with that as my predictions have been way off lately.
I certainly didn’t see the game coming down to a miracle at the end of regulation, but that seems to be something Northwestern lets happen.
The thing that was lost in the finish was the importance of Roy Roundtree finding a way to make that amazing catch. Sure, there was a penalty on the play, but in college pass interference is just a 15-yard penalty. Had Roundtree not made the juggling catch, the ball would have been put at the Northwestern 47 with eight seconds left. It would have been very tough for Michigan to get enough yards while stopping the clock to get a lengthy field goal.
Roundtree’s catch was clutch and he and Jeremy Gallon made some great plays during the game. That catch by Roundtree could go on to define the season if Michigan is able to get to a possible 10 wins (including a bowl victory).
The defense struggled on Saturday, but they aren’t the first to do so against Northwestern. Colter made some great plays for the Wildcats. It’s okay to expect the Wolverines to do better, but they are still going to have some down performances during the season.
As high as the win was for Michigan fans, I am sure they have to be disappointed about Nebraska’s win over Penn State.
An upset seemed to be brewing with the Nittany Lions up 20-6 at halftime, but Nebraska found a way to win. The Cornhuskers were the benefit of a big call on the McGloin “fumble” at the goal line, but that is how it works when you don’t control your own destiny.
Michigan has two games left and it appears that Denard Robinson’s injury may be more serious than the coaches either thought or let on. Devin Gardner has played well at quarterback, so well that some Michigan fans want him starting the rest of the season regardless of Robinson’s status.
I think Robinson deserves the right to be the quarterback if healthy, but certainly you have to keep Gardner prepared.
In fairness to Robinson, Gardner hasn’t faced impressive defensive units in his two games as a starter.
Michigan gets Iowa next week and I would think the coaches don’t want Robinson to face Ohio State without playing for three weeks, so I would expect to see him in action to some capacity if he is ultimately expected to play against the Buckeyes.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Michigan vs. Northwestern Prediction

I haven’t posted in a few days but I wanted to get up my prediction for Saturday’s lone game. Here is my take on what to expect for Michigan vs. Northwestern.

Northwestern at Michigan, Noon
No matter who is at quarterback, Michigan should be able to move the ball. Northwestern is allowing just under 400 yards per game on defense this season. This is a defense that Denard Robinson should be able to carve up with his legs or Devin Gardner should be able to carve up with his arm. Where Michigan will have to be sharp is on defense, as Northwestern is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 30.4 points per game. The Wildcats are very quick on the ground and Michigan will have to contain running back Venric Mark, who has posted over 1,000 rushing yards this year. I don’t see Michigan being able to really dominate this game. Northwestern has had its two losses come by a combined 12 points. Look for this game to be more of a shootout than a defensive battle. Ultimately, Michigan will make enough plays to win, but it will be a battle.
Michigan 31, Northwestern 24

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Big Ten College Basketball Preseason Predictions

It’s hard to believe, but the college basketball season already gets underway this Friday.
I plan on jumping heavily into basketball once the regular season of football is over, but I thought I would give my preseason picks for the Big Ten today before the season actually begins.
Here is how I look for the Big Ten to play out this year.

1. IndianaThe Hoosiers have the experience and the talent. It was a slow rebuild for Tom Crean, but patience seems to be paying off for Indiana.
2. MichiganThings can go really well for Michigan this year or really poorly. The Wolverines are relying on a lot of new faces, but they are expected to be a talented group of new faces. Hardaway Jr. and Burke will need to stay healthy throughout the season.
3. Michigan StateThe Spartans have a lot of talent, but the loss of Draymond Green will hurt in more ways than one. Leadership issues could lead to struggles during the season. If Nix and Payne take a big step forward in their progression, the Spartans could win the conference.
4. Ohio StateThe loss of Jared Sullinger and William Buford are big for the Buckeyes. They will have to rely more on their defense this year, led by Aaron Craft. I don’t see them being able to consistently win big games in the conference.
5. WisconsinThe Badgers return a solid core from last year but lose their playmaker in Jordan Taylor. Not sure where the points will come from for Wisconsin, but they should be strong defensively once again.
6. MinnesotaThe Golden Gophers could be the dark horse in the Big Ten as they return their top five scoring leaders from last season. The question is, even with the returning talent, do they have the talent that the other teams in the Big Ten have?
7. Purdue – The Boilermakers were hit hard with losing the likes of Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith. Purdue will be a team that is stronger later in the season as it develops new go-to players.
8. Iowa – The Hawkeyes took a step forward last year and I think that will continue some this year as they threaten to earn a NCAA Tournament bid. Iowa’s concern is not having a lot of depth to work with after losing four players from last year’s squad.
9. Northwestern – Some see Northwestern higher, but the loss of John Shurna will be a lot to overcome. The Wildcats still have some talent, but they don’t have a game-changer like Shurna to turn to. Drew Crawford will attempt to take that role, but I’m not sure he can do it with added defensive focus put on him.
10. IllinoisI like the addition of John Groce as the coach, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with this season at Illinois. Look for the Illini to struggle most of the year, but pull off a few upsets late in the season.
11. Penn StateIt’s hard to say if it’s good news or bad news, but Penn State lost four players from a 12-20 team last season. I see it as the Nittany Lions having little talent, and now, even less depth.

12. NebraskaWhat Nebraska can accomplish in football with a move to the Big Ten, it loses in basketball. The Cornhuskers are a mess of a basketball program. Similar to Penn State, Nebraska lost five players from a 12-18 team. It will be a long year for new coach Tim Miles.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Final thoughts from Week 10

It was an eventful day for football fans in the state of Michigan. Both Michigan and MSU had some interesting storylines come out of their games. Here are my final thoughts on the games.

Nebraska 28, Michigan State 24
I can’t tell you how upset I get when I hear about the refs “screwing” MSU on Saturday.
Was the pass interference call late in the game a bad one? I think so.
But, in no way can the whole game be blamed on that one call.
For one, Nebraska was still in field goal range to tie the game. Even without the penalty, the Cornhuskers were within reason to force overtime. Whose to say MSU would have won in OT?
Second, Michigan State had plenty of opportunities to close that game out and managed to not do it.
The most notable of those opportunities was on Darqueze Dennard’s interception of Taylor Martinez on the MSU 4-yard line that he returned for a touchdown. The score would have put the Spartans up 31-14 with 10:42 to play. Instead, the return was called back because of a personal foul hit by Johnny Adams on a Nebraska player.
Adams, who was completely out of the play at the time of the foul, lowered his shoulder into a Nebraska player and wiped him out. There was no need for the hit. It didn’t help Dennard or his team in any way. In fact, I’d argue the hit ultimately cost his team the game.
MSU’s offense sputtered from there and Nebraska came back on the next possession to score a touchdown and get back in the contest.
After the penalty, the MSU defense had multiple chances to close out the game, including a key fourth and short in Spartan territory, but they failed to make the stop.
Nebraska tallied 493 total yards in the win and Taylor Martinez rushed for 224 yards on his own.
The MSU defense failed to close out a game, which has been a problem in the past. The offense actually provided 24 points, which should have been enough to win this game.
After the game, I was disappointed to see the reaction of the players on Twitter. MSU has already had problems with players running their mouths on Twitter this season and tonight was no different. Here were a few choice cuts from running back Le’Veon Bell:
@L_Bell24: #ShoutOut to the refs...yall won the game tonight! Toughest team we played all year..”
@L_Bell24: We legitimately lost ONE game this year...and that was Notre Dame! The black & white team beat us 4 times
Bell removed the tweets afterward but the mindset of MSU blaming their losses on anyone but themselves is a disturbing trend this year and speaks to why the team is currently 5-5.
The Spartans need some accountability. Adams showed no accountability on the INT return and that led to a loss.
Bell is showing no accountability on Twitter and if the players carry this mindset the rest of the way, there will be more losses to come.

Michigan 35, Minnesota 13
Michigan had to feel like Saturday was a double victory.
The Wolverines not only won on the football field, but they won with the relief of knowing they have a quarterback they can turn to next season.
I’m sure Michigan fans were pretty nervous when they found out Denard Robinson wasn’t playing, and the first quarter didn’t do much to settle those nerves, but Devin Gardner settled in nicely and made some great plays with his arm and his feet to lead the offense to a victory.
His ability to buy some time on his 45-yard touchdown pass to Drew Dileo for Michigan’s first score seemed to spark the offense and give Gardner confidence the rest of the way.
He finished 12 of 18 passing for 234 yards while also rushing for 23 yards and a score. He doesn’t have the legs of Robinson, but he has a better arm and he looks like a player Michigan can turn to next season.
With a summer of focusing on being the starting quarterback, I think Gardner can be successful and keep Michigan from taking a step back next year.
I am sure Brady Hoke will put more emphasis on having Gardner ready to backup Robinson the rest of the way.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Predictions for Nebraska/MSU and Michigan/Minnesota

Let me start by saying my picks last week didn’t go so well (0-2). Perhaps it is best if I pick against your team. Either way, here is what I think will happen in today’s contests.

Michigan at Minnesota
I think this game will be tougher than many expect. Minnesota has a lot to play for, as it needs one more win to get to bowl eligibility, and it is coming off an impressive win over Purdue at home last week. I think Denard Robinson is coming into this game with that elbow injury still lingering a little bit. I could see it impacting the way he plays and making him more tentative, which will cause the offense to struggle at times. Even with that happening, the Michigan defense should still be able to limit Minnesota’s offense and keep the Wolverines in the game. From there, Robinson will make enough plays down the stretch to get Michigan a win on the road.
Michigan 23, Minnesota 17

Nebraska at Michigan State
Michigan State is a hard team to figure out. Sometimes they look good, sometimes they look bad. Regardless of how they look, the Spartans manage to keep all games close. I see this one being no different. For MSU to win, the offense will have to come through late. I see the MSU defense causing problems for Taylor Martinez all game long. Really, the first team to 17 points probably wins this game. The Cornhuskers don’t have that great of a defense, especially on the road. I think the Spartans will build off the strong finish they had at Wisconsin and show improvement on offense. That improvement combined with another strong defensive outing will give MSU a win over Nebraska, and make Michigan fans happy.
Michigan State 20, Nebraska 16

Keys to victory for Michigan/MSU against Minnesota/Nebraska

Michigan and Michigan State hit the field in 24 hours for a pair of Big Ten games. Here are my keys to victory for both teams on Saturday.

Michigan at Minnesota, Noon
- Be smart with Denard – It is fully expected for Denard Robinson to play on Saturday, but he may not be 100 percent. If the Wolverines are going to have a shot at the Big Ten title, they need Robinson to play the rest of the season. Against a team like Minnesota, Michigan should be able to move the ball on the ground with players like Fitzgerald Toussaint. The Golden Gophers have the third-worst rushing defense in the Big Ten, so Michigan should be able to exploit that with a healthy mix of ball carriers other than Robinson. I’m not saying don’t utilize Robinson, that would be silly, but keep his touches lower than normal and try to avoid piling up the hits on him.
- Stop the obvious players – Minnesota doesn’t have much in regards to big offensive stars. Running back Donnell Kirkwood is the top player, as he has 609 yards rushing with three scores this season. Michigan can live with Minnesota trying to win the game on his legs. I don’t see Minnesota being able to establish enough of a running game to be a one-dimensional offense. Where Michigan needs to avoid a letdown is in the passing game. Minnesota will take some chances, but their lone receiver with any stats of note is A.J. Barker, who has 30 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. The next closest receiver has just 13 catches for under 200 yards. If Minnesota is going to air it out, it will be to Barker. Michigan needs to stay close to him and focus a lot of coverage his way. If someone is going to beat the Wolverines on Saturday, make sure it is not him.
- Slow the game down early – Coming off their 44-28 win over Purdue last week, the Golden Gophers have some new life and will be looking to start Saturday’s game with a bang to get the crowd into it. Michigan needs to avoid getting caught up in that and play a smart, methodical pace on offense. Don’t come out of the gates looking for the 70-yard score. Steady drives down the field will take the crowd out of the game and keep the Minnesota offense from being on the field. Michigan can send its biggest message by controlling the line of scrimmage and dictating the pace of Saturday’s game.

Nebraska at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m.
- Pressure on MartinezMichigan State knows what it’s like to meet up against mobile quarterback. They have had success against Denard Robinson but struggled against the likes of Braxton Miller. In this game, the Spartans need to have the same mentality they had against Robinson. They need to keep Martinez in the pocket and now allow him to get to the outside where he can make plays with his legs. If they can contain the pocket and apply pressure on the ends, it should lead to turnovers. Martinez is a better passer than Denard Robinson, but he still has his flaws and will makes mistakes if he tries to force throws under pressure.
- Line improvement – I am not sure if this is a realistic possibility, but the offensive line has to play better. The Spartans need to avoid penalties and missed assignments up front. If Michigan State can’t establish a steady run game with Le’Veon Bell, the offense will continue to struggle as they have most of the season. Nebraska has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards in the Big Ten, so their defensive line is not exactly a powerhouse. The Spartan linemen need to challenge themselves and win the battle up front to help the offense finally have a breakout performance.
- Make the plays that need to be made – Like most MSU games, this one will probably come down to a handful of plays late. Michigan State made the key plays last week at Wisconsin and a lot of that had to do with quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his receivers stepping up. The same needs to be done this week. Maxwell has to play with confidence and make the tough throws in a small window. The receivers need to make the tough catches and avoid the drops that hurt them early in the season. Perhaps last week’s finish will lead to an improved offense. We will find out soon enough.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What's the news coming from Nebraska and Minnesota this week?

As I do each Thursday, let’s take a look at the stories coming from the opponents of Michigan and Michigan State this week.

Though it may not seem like it, Bo Pelini has been head coach of Nebraska for five seasons already.
Pelini has led the Cornhuskers to at least 9 wins every season thus far, but he is lacking in much hardware to show for his efforts. That has not been lost on the local media covering Nebraska.
Sam McKewon, of the Omaha World-Herald, wrote a column this week saying it is time for Nebraska to close out the season and win the Big Ten title.
Pelini’s teams have struggled as the front-runners. They battle their way off the wall after an ugly loss, and their backs seem to instinctively seek out the wall again. The Huskers’ maturity should guard against a letdown. Of course, that maturity hasn’t exactly guarded against penalties and turnovers. NU can occasionally play like a team at odds with its self-interest. Like the offense did on those three plays inside Michigan’s 5-yard line.
But the road to Indianapolis won’t get much clearer or cleaner than this. I know: Four games left, good opposing defenses, breaks of the game. But let’s not make any of the remaining opponents out to be something they’re not. Nebraska has a significantly better offense than all of them. A better kicker than all of them. More team speed than all of them. More momentum than all of them.
That MSU and Iowa’s offenses would struggle to pitch coins in a fountain. That Penn State has an immobile quarterback who played poorly at home vs. the Huskers last year. That Minnesota’s quarterback just turned 19. That it’s closing time for Bo and the Blackshirts.
Nebraska went 2-2 to end the regular season last year, keeping it from making a trip to Indianapolis despite a win over the Legends representative, Michigan State.
The Cornhuskers dropped two of their final three games in 2010 in their final season as part of the Big 12.
Will the trend continue this year for Nebraska? Will Michigan State get the nod over the Cornhuskers, who have had problems winning on the road consistently?
If Nebraska sputters in the final four games, will Pelini start to feel some pressure from the Nebraska fans and administrators?

Playing on the road is never easy, especially when you get into conference play.
However, the Golden Gophers are lacking in much of a home-field advantage these days.
Phil Miller, of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, talks about Minnesota’s current issues with filling their stadium.
Only 41,062 tickets were sold to the Gophers' game against Purdue last Saturday, already the smallest crowd in TCF Bank Stadium's four-year history, and it looked like there were several thousand no-shows, too. It's a shame that so many Gopher fans missed the most impressive victory of the season so far.
But Jerry Kill said Tuesday he knows who is to blame for such a dispiriting turnout: He is.
Well, sort of. It's not really his fault that the Gophers don't draw well, but it is his responsibility, he said, for making sure that changes.
"If we continue to win, that place will be packed out and we'll have to build on to it," Kill said at his weekly news conference. "If you don't win, that's the way it is. ... It's our job. It's not our fans -- I'm not going to blame anybody. We've got to put a good product out there. That's what I was hired to do a year and a half ago, and that's what we'll do."
TCF Bank Stadium has a listed capacity of 50,805, which isn’t much for a Big Ten program.
The fact that the Gophers are having troubling filling the stadium is somewhat surprising considering Minnesota is 5-3 this year and just one win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.
Perhaps last week’s win over Purdue at home will inspire more Gophers fans to get out to TCF Bank Stadium this week.