National signing day is done and dusted, fax machines are back to collecting dust until next first Wednesday of February. We’ve already discussed the biggest recruits for every Big Ten team, but just because they were the biggest doesn’t make them the most important.
Sometimes it’s the 2-star guy who is a developmental project that can turn the class in to a winner. Other times it’s the 5-star stud that everyone was raving about, and there are players in between who become the most important member of a class. Heck, sometimes it just means there’s a massive need at a specific position.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the most important recruit for every Big Ten west team.
2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special
The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?
Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.
So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.
Michigan Wolverines at Iowa Hawkeyes: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications
When: Sat. Nov. 12, 2016; 8 pm ET
Where: Iowa City, IA; Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 41-14-4
Last Meeting: Iowa 24-21 win, in 2013
Line: Michigan (-21.5)
The Big Ten has dominated the primetime ABC time slot for the past month, but the focus has been on Ohio State and the other leading Big Ten contenders (Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska). Michigan has actually not had any night games other than the 78-0 Rutgers beatdown, and only two road games so far on the schedule. Thus, the Wolverines will be entering somewhat unfamiliar territory in multiple ways in this road game at night in Kinnick Stadium.
The pressure is beginning to mount as Michigan approaches an undefeated regular season, a feat which Iowa accomplished just a season ago. It will be interesting to see if Iowa can do what nobody could do to the Hawkeyes last year, and that is knock an undefeated season off track. That will be easier said and written than done, if Michigan’s dominant level of play so far is a true indicator of team strength.
Although Michigan has a game in hand on the East Division and could actually afford a loss, the Hawkeyes need to win out and receive significant help to get back in the West Division race. A loss here likely eliminates them from conference title aspirations, and it would leave work left on the table to get to 6 wins and bowl eligibility. That’s a long drop from nearly making the College Football Playoff a season ago, so expect a spirited effort from Iowa in what may be the biggest spotlight game for that program in 2016.
1 Burning Question: How will Michigan perform in the spotlight and an actual tough road environment?
There have been only two games where Michigan has really been challenged so far this season: the 45-28 win over Colorado (in the first half) and the 14-7 slugfest against Wisconsin. However, both of those games have come at the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium in front of 100,000 friendly faces. Those circumstances can help a defense full of young talent step up and play their best, regardless of the competition or the level of adversity.
With the only two road games thus far being at Rutgers and Michigan State, two teams that enter the weekend a combined 0-12 in conference play, the Wolverines have not faced even a decent team on the road. Although everybody is looking ahead to the road test in Columbus in a couple weeks, Kinnick Stadium is a long trip and just as tough an environment, thanks in large part to the fans being nearly literally right on top of the players along the sidelines. With young players like Michigan features, sometimes these road environments are a huge trap.
Instead of having fan support throughout the game, the Michigan defense will need to keep intensity up by themselves against the Hawkeyes. Plus, Michigan knows the national eyes will be all on them in a weekend full of largely lackluster games in the Top 25. So, whether Michigan steps up to prove their worth once again or not, the Wolverines will certainly be more battle-tested having faced this road environment on Saturday night.
2 Key Stats:
— +251.7, and -66.6. That’s the net total yardage differential average (offense minus defense) for Michigan and Iowa, respectively. The big statistics all favor Michigan in most games because the Wolverines have combined a salty defense with an offense just good enough to roll over most of the competition faced to date. However, as shocking as gaining over 250 yards more than opponents is, the bigger surprise here is how Iowa has regressed to a team being out-gained by a significant margin some weeks. If the statistics trump the circumstances of a hostile night game crowd at Kinnick and undefeated season/national title pressures, this game will be a bigger blowout than even the Vegas line would indicate.
— 19.0%. That’s the third down conversion rate surrendered by Michigan (1st in B1G). The Hawkeyes rank 11th in the Big Ten conference at picking up third down conversions, with the problems stemming from too many third-and-long situations and predictable play calling. Michigan’s defense gives up fewer than 1-in-5 third downs, and if Iowa wants to stay close in this game, it needs to find a way to break this stat and extend long drives. Third down is where this contest will be won, in all likelihood.
3 Key Players:
Desmond King, Iowa CB/KR: The Wolverines have had a balanced offense so far this season, relying on various running threats as well as the passing game led by QB Wilton Speight. Outside of the Wisconsin game, Speight has not faced serious threats in the opposing defensive backfield like what King will bring to this game. King has not grabbed as many interceptions as last year, but he is still a lock-down defensive force who punishes mistakes when quarterbacks telegraph their intentions. Add to that King’s big-play potential in the return game, and Jabrill Peppers will not be the only multi-purpose star to watch for a big game Saturday night.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan LB/DB/KR/etc.: The Heisman hopes of Peppers took a hit against Maryland with only two carries on offense leading to 19 yards, and not many huge standout plays on defense. With the national spotlight, look for Jim Harbaugh and his staff look to give their best star a chance to break out with a great performance. Peppers is averaging 17.1 yards per punt return and 26 yards per kick return, so Iowa will be challenged to cover Peppers on these extra “touches.” You can also expect a much larger role on offense, as Michigan will challenge Iowa’s defense to prove it can stop a dynamic playmaker of this caliber.
Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels, Iowa RBs: As set forth above, Iowa will need to win third down to slow down Michigan and get this game in a close state in the fourth quarter at home. Wadley and Daniels are both averaging over 70 yards per game, and both will need to find running room to keep Michigan from rushing the Iowa QB C.J. Beathard too much. The gains need to come on first and second down to open up options and the playbook when needing to convert those third downs. If one or both of these backs are ineffective or add many negative plays, Iowa will not hang on to the ball long enough to remain competitive.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Michigan 28-10
Dave: Michigan 28-10
Phil H.: Michigan 37-13
Philip R.: Michigan 24-20
Iowa Hawkeyes at Penn State Nittany Lions: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications
When: Sat. Nov. 5, 2016; 7:30 pm ET
Where: State College, PA; Beaver Stadium (106,572)
All-Time Series: Penn State leads 13-12
Last Meeting: Penn State 38-14 win, in 2012
Line: Penn State (-7.5)
The November schedule begins with a solid slate of Big Ten games, including two night games with serious division title implications. Penn State comes into this game at 4-1 in conference play, one game behind Michigan in the East Division chase. Similarly, Iowa has a 3-2 conference record and stands one game back of Nebraska in the West Division. One of these teams will all but be knocked out of the Big Ten championship chase on Saturday night in Happy Valley.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a bye, so this team should be healthy and ready with some interesting schemes to try and knock the Nittany Lions off course. However, what used to be relatively familiar Big Ten rivals have become less so with conference expansion, having no games since 2012. That lack of familiarity will be an interesting factor as the Hawkeyes try to win in front of 100,000+ hostile fans.
The Nittany Lions are surprisingly ranked in the top 12 of the initial College Football Playoff committee rankings. Will this pleasant surprise go to the heads of a developing team, or will the Lions stay all business, like a week ago when the huge upset win over Ohio State was followed by a blowout win in a tricky noon kickoff at Purdue? Let’s take a deeper look at this prime time showdown.
1 Burning Question: Will Iowa wilt or thrive under the pressure of a tough road environment?
There are tough road environments and big stadiums all over the Big Ten, but only three of those stadiums hold 100,000 or more fans (Michigan, PSU, OSU) and all sit in the East Division. Thus, Iowa does not get many chances to play in these types of venues (only one such road game since 2010), and this team has not often won in those rare opportunities. The pressure of an unusually hostile environment may be a task too tall for the Hawkeyes.
However, even with that history, and Penn State being 5-0 at home this season, one also has to consider that Iowa is 3-0 on the road this season. Sure, two of those wins are against Rutgers and Purdue, but the Hawkeyes have found a way to get the job done thus far when traveling, with the only slip-ups in 2016 coming at Kinnick Stadium. Let’s also not forget that this same team was perfect on the road last year during the 12-0 season as well, so Iowa has a long streak of thriving on the road as well.
One of these hot streaks must come to an end, and with it will go the chances (in all likelihood) for a Big Ten championship. The stakes do not get any better than that, and it will be fun to watch whether the Hawkeyes can prevail in one of the hardest environments in the country, especially when the Nittany Lions are good.
2 Key Stats:
— +7, and 5. That’s the turnover margin (3rd in B1G) and the total interceptions (13th in B1G) for Iowa. Through 8 games, the one thing Iowa has done exceedingly well is limit mistakes in the form of turnovers. Although the defense led by Desmond King was expected to produce far more than 5 interceptions, the Hawkeyes have turned the ball over themselves only 5 total times this season, making it easy to have a top-tier turnover margin number. Big special teams plays and turnovers can flip the outcome of close games, and at least statistically, both of these critical factors strongly favor the Hawkeyes.
— 25.3%. That’s the 3rd down conversion percentage for Penn State in 2016 (14th in B1G). In most statistical categories, the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes are middle-of-the-road teams or at least similar to one another. One exception to that general rule is converting third downs, where Penn State is, by far, the worst in the conference. Iowa has had some struggles on offense, but if the Hawkeye defense can stop Penn State from sustaining long drives in this game, Iowa will have a chance to win. And if the Hawkeyes do just this with a lead, the hostile crowd may be completely taken out of the game as a factor.
3 Key Players:
Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB: Even though Penn State has not put up great team rushing numbers this season, Barkley still leads the Big Ten in rushing individually thanks to a 111 yard per game average (including over 200 yards last week). He has also added 10 touchdowns, including some really big scores like the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Minnesota a few weeks ago. Iowa will be looking to pressure young quarterback Trace McSorley into mistakes, but the Hawkeyes will need to take away McSorley and Barkley in the running game if that game plan is to be effective. Slowing down Barkley will be easier said than done, however.
Desmond King, Iowa CB: Sure, King has not come close to his school-record 8 interceptions of the 2015 season with only 1 so far in 2016, but he’s always a threat against quarterbacks like McSorley who have not played against him yet. In addition to great coverage, King also is a huge contributor on special teams. His average on kick returns is 32 yards per return, easily the best numbers for any player with more than 5 returns on the season in the Big Ten. Every time King is involved in a play or touches the ball, big things could happen for the Hawkeyes.
Josey Jewell, Iowa LB: Although it is tempting to name either starting quarterback as a third key player, instead Jewell makes the cut as perhaps the most important player to slow down the Penn State running game. Jewell has 77 tackles on the season, which is evidence of how well he figures out where the opposing offense is going to make the stop. Just like with Desmond King, the Nittany Lions will need to scheme well to limit the impact of Jewell and Iowa’s big time defensive players. Don’t be surprised if Jewell is used to spy on McSorley at times to limit broken play runs which could otherwise go for big first downs, even though that’s not normal in the Iowa game plan.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Penn State 31-10
Dave: Penn State 27-20
Phil H.: Penn State 31-17
Philip R.: Penn State 28-17
Zach: Penn State 24-21
Iowa Hawkeyes at Purdue Boilermakers: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications
When: Sat. Oct. 12, 2016; 12:00 pm ET
Where: West Lafayette, IN; Ross-Ade Stadium (57,236)
All-Time Series: Purdue leads 46-37-3
Last Meeting: Iowa 40-20 win in 2015
Line: Iowa (-12.5)
The “Black and Gold” Bowl was a protected cross-over game (for some reason these teams were the leftovers without a natural rival) in the Legends and Leaders division era, so these now-Western division foes have played each other regularly the past few seasons. Darrell Hazell has yet to win a game in this series, which is one of the many reasons he sits fairly atop the hot seat with questions about whether he will return for a fifth season.
However, this game presents a great opportunity for Purdue to do something it has never done under Hazell: win two conference games in a row, and also win two conference games in a season, period. The Hawkeyes come into this game not playing particularly well in the last four weeks, and that could spell a recipe for an upset in Purdue’s home stadium. But can Hazell turn optimism and a thrilling overtime win at Illinois into a winning streak? That remains to be seen.
For Iowa, all of the goals regarding a Big Ten title and a return to Pasadena remain in front of them despite the recent losses to North Dakota State and to Northwestern. With two more wins heading into the bye week (Wisconsin at home next week), Iowa would be well-positioned to have the entire season come down to that home game against Nebraska on Black Friday. A loss here, though, shatters those dreams and makes 7-5 or 6-6 a real possibility.
It’s unpredictable, and likely not pretty, but let’s dive in and see who has the edge!
1 Burning Question: Is Iowa’s Offensive Line healthy enough and effective enough to coast through this game?
Purdue is not great defensively, as evidenced by their inability to slow teams like Maryland, Cincinnati, and even Illinois (with a backup QB) down. Through five games, Purdue ranks 13th in the Big Ten in rushing defense, at 244 yards per game, and 6th in passing defense. One deficiency leading to these numbers has been an inability for the Boilermakers to generate much push and pressure with the defensive line. Despite being stacked with upperclassmen and returning starters, this unit just has not gotten the job done for Hazell’s team.
As bad as Purdue’s defensive front has been, what is more shocking is the problems Iowa has had on their own offensive line, A.K.A., the Kirk Ferentz specialty. The Hawkeyes rank 13th in the conference in rushing offense, generating less than 150 yards per game on the ground despite having a crew of talented running backs led by Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels. These problems come from an offensive line that has needed to shift parts around thanks to a lot of injuries in the first half of the 2016 season.
If Iowa is to stand a chance against Wisconsin next week, this unit has to come together and start playing like a normal Iowa O-line, if not the 2015 version. That type of line performance would typically roll over a defensive front like Purdue and dominate the line of scrimmage and time of possession in a game of this caliber. However, until Iowa proves it is healthy and effective on the field, even against overmatched competition, it is hard to have any faith in the Hawkeyes moving forward beyond this weekend’s tilt with the Boilermakers.
2 Key Stats:
— +5 (Iowa) and -6 (Purdue). That’s the 2016 turnover margin numbers for both teams. There are not a multitude of statistics where Iowa and Purdue stand well-apart in contrast, but this is one with the Hawkeyes ranking 3rd in the Big Ten and Purdue well-entrenched in last place. It is perhaps more surprising that Iowa does not have a better record considering such a high positive turnover margin, but the bottom line is that the Hawkeyes know how to make big plays, while the Boilermakers give up big plays. If this trend continues to be accurate, the Hawkeyes could end up with a couple more short fields than Purdue, leading to enough “easy points” to make the difference in this road game.
— 95% (Iowa) and 62% (Purdue). That’s the red zone offensive efficiency for these teams. Another huge distinction between these teams is what they do when entering the red zone with the ball. Iowa scores almost automatically, including an impressive 15 touchdowns in 20 total red zone trips to lead the Big Ten. Purdue struggles to finish the job, thanks in part to a couple of red zone turnovers this season. Once again, if these numbers are accurate, it is a huge edge to the Hawkeyes in a game that may feature limited opportunities, particularly if both teams play evenly. However, if Purdue is to make a run at a bowl game, it will also be evident when statistics like this turn around.
3 Key Players:
Desmond King, Iowa CB/KR: The difference in games like this often comes down to who has the better star playmakers, and Iowa likely has the best player on the field with King. The All-America defender should have opportunities when David Blough is pressured to cause one or two turnovers, but where he may have the best chance to shine is special teams. King is averaging 27.3 yards per return on 15 kickoff returns, so the Boilermakers coverage unit will need to stay disciplined with King bringing the ball out of the end zone. It’s about time King had one of those monster games, and he is due for something like a return touchdown. Purdue beware.
David Blough, Purdue QB: With some help from running back Markell Jones, Blough has led the Boilermakers to be reasonably effective on offense with nearly 430 yards per game in 2016. Plus, Blough is the player with the most effect on whether Purdue can slow down the turnover problems. Dominique Young has emerged as Blough’s favorite target, but they have only connected for one touchdown this season. Iowa generated pressure and sacked Blough a couple of times in last season’s meeting. If Iowa cannot pressure Blough again and force him to make bad decisions which open up the opportunities for guys like Desmond King, then Purdue could very well escape with a winning streak intact on Saturday afternoon.
Akrum Wadley, Iowa RB: Despite LeShun Daniels leading the team in rushing, Wadley seems to be the player who comes up with the big plays at the critical junctures to finish drives and finish off opponents. Wadley has 8 total touchdowns in the six games this season, and this is one of the worst defensive fronts statistically he has played against in 2016. The Boilermaker defense needs to avoid giving up the big plays to Wadley, and that could prove to be difficult as the team wears down in the second half.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Iowa 38-10
Dave: Iowa 24-14
Phil H.: Iowa 23-17
Philip R.: Iowa 28-21