No Sleep Till Football

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4 Downs – Big 10 Football

It’s time to get back to college football baby! Things are pretty slow in college football right now, but I’m going to try and liven them back up a bit with some “4 Downs” posts regarding the conferences. I’m start off with the Big 10 as I’m a Big 10 guy. Let’s go over a few things that are of interest.

1st Down – Michigan’s Rivalry Games

Rich Rodriguez hasn’t been too good over his first couple of seasons against Penn St., Ohio St., Michigan St. & Notre Dame. Michigan is 1-7 against that quartet and they probably shouldn’t have beaten Notre Dame last season. Unfortunately for Michigan, they get 3 of those 4 games on the road. Only Michigan St. will travel to Ann Arbor and I don’t think Michigan will be favored in that game, especially if they’ve lost a couple of games. Michigan almost lost to Indiana last year, but this time will be in Bloomington before facing Sparty. Michigan also opens up at home against UConn and then travels to South Bend. Michigan could be 2-3 by the time they face Michigan St. although it’s very possible they could be 5-0. The Wolverines have got to figure out a way to stop somebody on defense. They gave up 29+ points per game last year against D1 foes. Losing DE/OLB Brandon Graham certainly doesn’t help matters.

Michigan also has to find an identity on offense. They are losing 3 senior tailbacks plus Greg Matthews at wideout. Tate Forcier should be the returning QB, but Denard Robinson isn’t going anywhere either. RB Mike Cox returns and WR Ray Roundtree was solid, but Michigan needs to figure out a way to get the offense humming the way RichRod had the offense going in West Virginia. Right now I don’t see Michigan winning any of those games which would put Rodriguez at 1-11 over 3-years and you would then likely see Les Miles on the sidelines in 2011.

2nd Down: Which Hot Seat is Hottest?

The coaches most likely facing serious heat this year will be Indiana’s Bill Lynch, Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez, Illinois’ Ron Zook & Minnesota’s Tim Brewster. Let’s take a look at each of the four:

Lynch: Indiana AD Fred Glass has said over and over that Indiana is going to be a school that honors contracts. That means Lynch is not only around for 2010 but is also around for 2011 if you believe what Glass says. By most accounts, Indiana made a horrible blunder in giving Lynch an extension after Oklahoma St. murdered Indiana in a bowl game after the 2007 season. Lynch followed that up with a 3-9 (1-7) record in 2008 and last season Indiana came in at 4-8 (1-7) despite starting the season 3-0. The Hoosiers did have 3 close losses making their “Best Case” record a very solid 7-5, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Indiana should have a very good offense in 2010, but they lost a ton on a defense that wasn’t really good to begin with. They play Ohio St., Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue & Penn St. on the road. Maybe they can beat Illinois. At home they get Michigan, Northwestern & Iowa. At best Indiana is 1-7 against in the Big 10. They have a shot at winning all their non-conference games meaning Indiana at best is 5-7. It’s better than 4-8, but in the last 3-years (including 2010) Lynch most likely will be either 3-21 or 2-22. Glass will only be hurting Indiana from a recruiting angle by keeping Lynch around. There is no way the guy is coaching Indiana in 2012 and if there was ever the very definition of a lame duck coach, it would be Bill Lynch in 2011.

Rodriguez: Coach Rod is 8-16 over his first two seasons in Ann Arbor. He’s going to feel heat because it’s Michigan, but Michigan is still turning out solid recruiting classes. I think Rodriguez simply walked into a situation where his system had absolutely no players from which he could work. Last season you could say he was playing with his players, but they were only freshman and Michigan went 5-7. I think he needs time to turn it around. This season could easily see Michigan going 7-5 with a win over Notre Dame and possibly 8-4 if they can find a way to beat Michigan St. at home. Either way, unless Michigan loses games they shouldn’t, they should be back in a bowl. If RichRod’s progression is 3-9 to 5-7 to 7-5 or 8-4 then I don’t see how Michigan fires the guy. Even going 0-4 against ND, PSU, MSU & OSU shouldn’t stop Michigan from going 6-6 and getting to a bowl.

Zook: Zook got a little lucky in 2007 in beating Ohio St., but still having the Buckeyes play in the BCS Championship while the Illini got a chance to get hammered by USC in the Rose Bowl. Illinois finished 9-4 that year, but the problem was that it raised expectations for Illinois. Zook followed that up with a 5-7 record in 2008 and a 3-9 record in 2009. Zook has never been a great coach, but he’s not getting the top shelf talent at Illinois like he did at Florida. He loses QB Juice Williams & WR Arrelious Benn, Illinois’ two best players. The Illini lose quite a few other senior players and 2010 can’t be looked at as anything other than rebuilding given the relative strength of the other Big 10 squads. They have two non-conference games against Missouri (in St. Louis) & Fresno St. (on the road). I think at best Illinois 4-8 and possibly 3-9/2-10. In the best case scenario Zook is 12-24 over the last 3-years. I don’t see how he survives.

Brewster: I really like what Brewster is doing at Minnesota. He was 1-11 in his first season for the Gophers and managed to turn that around to 7-6 in 2008 although he got pounded in a bowl game. Last season Minnesota managed a 6-7 record and another bowl loss to Iowa St. Typically I wouldn’t say Brewster would be feeling heat, but Minnesota is 1-11 in Nov/Dec games and o-2 in bowl games in Brewster’s first 3 seasons. Six of his wins have been close so his 14-24 overall record could just as easily be 8-30. What puts Brewster on the hot seat primarily is the schedule Minnesota has in 2010. They have home games against USC, Northwestern, Penn St., Ohio St., & Iowa! Their road games are against Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan St., & Illinois! They miss Indiana & Michigan in Big 10 play. That’s 6 guaranteed losses right there. They don’t have their QB situation worked out as Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray are battling. Minnesota also loses star WR Eric Decker along with 9 senior starters on defense! That’s rough sledding.

I think Zook is the only guaranteed goner of the four. Glass has guaranteed Lynch’s safety and I think Rodriguez gets Michigan to a bowl. Brewster would be the most likely after Zook, but is Minnesota going to replace him with somebody significantly better?

3rd Down: Can Michigan St. Contend for the Big 10 Title?

Of the teams I was most impressed with last season, Michigan St. was right there at the top. Their final record of 6-7 doesn’t look impressive, but it belies how close Michigan St. really was to being truly great. The losses they had were extremely close:

Central Michigan: 29-27
at Notre Dame: 33-30
at Wisconsin: 38-30
Iowa: 15-13
at Minnesota: 42-34

The 6-7 record could have been 11-2 and Michigan St. would most likely be a top-10 team heading into the 2010 season. This season should be a solid one for Michigan St. They pretty much have their entire team back except for 3 of the 5 offensive linemen. If Michigan St. can get that going in the right direction, Sparty should be in for an incredible year. Their road games are against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa & Penn St. All 4 of them are winnable if things come together for Michigan St. They avoid Ohio St. and get both Notre Dame & Wisconsin at home.

It’s a favorable schedule and if Michigan St. can play to their potential, there is a 10-2 season in there if not a potential 11-1. This could definitely be a coming out part for the boys in East Lansing. Regression to the mean has to come calling at some point and I think Mark Dantonio is too good a coach to be one that always loses close games. Lots of talk will be centered around Iowa, Wisconsin & Ohio St. for the Big 10 title, but Michigan St. is up there with them as a sleeper pick to upset the favored three.

4th Down: More Big 10 Expansion Talk

This talk isn’t going to die down anytime soon as the Big 10 is going to 12 teams. It’s a fact. A couple of things worth mentioning here. The first is that Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney has recognized that intimacy of a league has it’s merits. I think this is important because it sort of dissuades me from thinking the Big 10 will turn into a 14 or 16 team conference. The other thing that has been written about is Jack Swarbrick and his legacy as the Notre Dame AD. Some people are saying that Swarbrick might resist joining a conference on his watch so as not to go down as the Irish AD that capitulated on ridding Notre Dame of its independence. I don’t know. Swarbrick was smart enough to hire Brian Kelly as the next HC for Notre Dame. I think he sees the big picture and if he sees it clearly enough I think ND joins the Big 10 as their 12th squad and that ends all the talk of expansion. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I don’t see how Notre Dame avoids it.

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April 9, 2010 - Posted by | 4 Downs, Big 10, Coaching, Michigan, Michigan St., Notre Dame

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