WARR writer Kevin Luchansky normally writes about baseball for WARR.com., this college football season he expands his reach by writing on another passion of his — college football, in particular the Big Ten.
Stay up with WARR.com for his continued coverage of the Big Ten and college football at large every weekend.
Well now, the Big Ten conference had itself quite the little Saturday last week, didn’t it?
Teams from the East and West divisions combined to go 11-1 on the 20th, with the lone loss coming at the hands of the Utah Utes, who bested Michigan in the Big House, 26-10. Speaking of Michigan, Brady Hoke’s seat is getting warmer and the Jim Harbaugh rumors are getting louder, but we’ll tackle that another time.
I’ve gone on record saying the whole conference bravado and win-loss thing is a bunch of garbage — narratives the media play up to drive attention and push their opinion – but I do have to point out how quiet SEC fanatics were last weekend.
Well, a little team from Bloomington, Ind. marched into the defending SEC West champions house and beat the then-#18 ranked Missouri Tigers in a thriller to the end, 31-27. No flukes, no crazy play calling, no phantom flags, just the little Indiana Hoosiers playing good, all-round football.
With the exception of abysmal numbers on third down conversions (1-14), IU played a solid, balanced overall game, gaining 493 total yards – 252 in the air and 241 via the ground. The most telling stat of all, however, was that Indiana never once turned the ball over. That’s a recipe for success on the road.
Not surprisingly, SEC bravado was quiet among analysts, reporters and fans that evening. They often talk about conference power, but it also seems like they conveniently forget the likes of struggling basement teams, such Vanderbilt or Kentucky, when talking about top-to-bottom strength. Each team is only as strong as their weakest player, much the same that each conference is only as strong as their weakest team.
This game is intriguing for a number of reasons. First off, as I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a coach in the Big Ten – or the entire country – with more pressure to win right now than Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are 2-2 and coming off a really poor showing at home, and yet they enter this game as 13.5 point favorites in the Big House. Michigan has turned the ball over 12 times in their first four games, which makes that -13.5 look pretty steep if you ask me.
Injuries (and poor performance) are another part of this intrigue, particularly with the quarterback position. Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner is questionable with a toe injury, and Michigan’s Devin Gardner is banged up and playing poorly, so there is a decent chance we see backup Shane Morris get some snaps. That’s quite a bit of uncertainty for two offenses that have been less than consistent in the early going. If Leidner is able to return under center, expect the Gophers to try and air it out as well against a Michigan secondary prone to giving up big plays.
This one could really go two different ways. If both teams can march out their (healthy) starting quarterbacks, I think we see a closer game than the spread would predict. However, if Gardner (or Morris) plays sloppily and the Wolverines don’t protect the ball, I can see Minnesota grabbing the “upset.” Prediction: Michigan 28-Minnesota 26.
The second game I’m most interested in (well, outside of the Maryland-Indiana game, which is featuring a combined 5-2 record) is the Cincinnati-Ohio State match-up in the The Shoe in Columbus. This is another game with a fairly large spread (OSU at -18) that I think could be closer than that number might predict.
The Bearcats are 2-0 this season and their offense looked mighty impressive, albeit against lesser opponents, posting 89 points in total. The offense is led by highly touted prospect Gunner Kiel who you may remember from his seemingly never-ending quest to find the right school, as he originally committed to LSU, then to Indiana, then to Notre Dame. He enrolled at Notre Dame and suited up for a season, before finally landing at Cincinnati. What I’m saying is his days as the “highly touted” high school quarterback prospect are a few years old, but he’s really just now starting his college playing days.
Cincinnati is currently ninth in the nation in average passing yards at 353 yards per contest, and 102nd in rushing with 123 yards. They will certainly be tested against an Ohio State front seven that likes to get after the run and pressure the quarterback. If the Bearcat offensive line can manage to provide some time, however, the real matchup might be Kiel versus the Buckeye secondary.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, they were idle last week and therefore had ample time to prepare for Kiel’s arm. With the home loss to Virginia Tech not too far back in their rear view mirror, I think they come out lively and well prepared. Their offense should really start to gel under J.T. Barrett, who has now had a few weeks running snaps with the first team offense. Prediction: Ohio State 31-Cincinnati 14.
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