Bowl season is usually a cruel, cruel mistress to the Big Ten. Let’s just say hopes always start high and results crash fans of the teams in the conference back down to earth quickly.
There are a myriad of reasons and excuses often given, and some of them are valid (or at least used to be). Examples usually include the fact that 90 percent of the games are played well outside of the Big Ten footprint and the old reliable of huge disparities in caliber of opponents (addressed a bit by the last change in bowl alignment).
So, as the 2017-18 bowl season got underway it was hard to expect much from the Big Ten. After all, the conference teams managed to go just 3-7 last year and only one of those three wins was very meaningful (Wisconsin over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl).
Then the games were played and we here in Big Ten country have been reminded just how meaningful bowl season really is.
Purdue not only got to a bowl game, but it won its bowl game against another offense-first team in Arizona. Sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar overcame injury and threw for nearly 400 yards (396 to be exact) and four touchdowns, while running back D.J. Knox had 101 yards on 11 carries.
If you believe bowl games don’t matter, just talk to anyone on the Purdue or Arizona sidelines following that game. Going 7-6 in season one under Jeff Brohm was huge, but most importantly it sets new expectations for the program’s floor going forward.
When is the last time there were anything but dreadful expectations surrounding the Purdue football program? If anything, that should tell you just how meaningful bowl games are.
But, it was just Purdue’s three-point win out in the Foster Farms Bowl that showcased the importance of winning so-called meaningless bowl games.
Michigan State not only rebounded from a 3-9 season to go 9-3, but it just beat a fellow top 25 program in Washington State. Sure, you can point to Luke Falk being out of the game, but the Spartans looked like the Spartans that climbed their way to the College Football Playoff just two years ago again.
Dantonio’s crew pounded the ball down the throat of Wazzu’s smaller defensive line and that led to LJ Scott putting up 110 yards on just 18 carries. Meanwhile, the Spartans defense held the Cougars high-scoring offense to just 17 points in the 42-17 win in the Holiday Bowl.
Think MSU will be overlooked by bowl games in the future again?
Even Iowa, who had the most maddening up and down season of any Big Ten team, pulled off a win in the opening game for a Big Ten team this bowl season.
It wasn’t always pretty, but in a matchup of two 7-5 teams, what else would you expect? Most importantly, the game showed that Iowa could win a close game against a quality defense. For a team full of young players at key positions, it’s a win that builds momentum heading in to the offseason.
All three wins set up increase expectations for next season and there’s nothing better than expecting quality football and increased competition within the Big Ten at all.
Of course, the rest of the Big Ten teams in bowl games have some huge matchups to play in.
It’s a nice start to reversing the trend of horrible bowl seasons for the conference, but there’s a lot of work still to be done for the rest of the conference. With three teams in New Year’s Six bowl games, winning them puts the conference at the forefront of the offseason discussion and as much as we hate to admit it — perception is reality these days in the college football world.
That was the lesson we were supposed to take away from the College Football Playoff committee’s selection of Alabama over an actual conference champion, right?
With a snub from the College Football Playoff committee this season, a huge turnaround in bowl game results would mean a whole lot to the reputation – fair or not – of the conference going forward.
Let’s see if the early momentum can be maintained by the big dogs of the B1G.
Every Big Ten West division team’s biggest question following spring football
Spring camps are finished, what questions remain for teams in the Big Ten West division?
Michigan has arrived back in Ann Arbor, meaning spring football is finally and officially done across the Big Ten. College football’s annual rite of passage is also done, and there is plenty of curiosity to go around.
That means it is time to take stock of where things sit heading in to the summer workout sessions and the season ahead. It is also the perfect time to really dive deep in to what we did and didn’t see this spring.
Let’s start with the Big Ten West division, which had two new head coaches and another head coach with his first real spring camp in the books. Minnesota got the P.J. Fleck era under way and Purdue welcomed Jeff Brohm’s high-flying offensive attack to the division. Meanwhile, Illinois’ Love Smith finally got to run a full spring practice without rushing things.
Which teams answered questions, which ones have big-time questions to answer this fall? Let us take a look at every Big Ten West division teams’ biggest question post-spring football.
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
Purdue Boilermakers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes: Preview, predictions and prognostications
When: 12 p.m. ET
Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA
All-Time Series: Purdue leads 46-36-3
Last Meeting: Iowa 24-10, in 2014
Line: Iowa -18
The black and gold bowl was a protected crossover rivalry in the Legends and Leaders era of the Big Ten. While the games have been pretty lopsided in Iowa’s favor during the Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz eras, these two teams are close historically. Will that be the case this weekend, where Purdue plays spoiler to Senior Day and Iowa’s potential division championship celebration?
Let’s count to 5 and see whether the Hawkeyes will finalize those tickets to Indianapolis for the B1G Championship Game a week early.
1 Burning Question: Will the pressures of 10-0 and Senior Day get to the Hawkeyes?
Although the line listed above was correct at the early-middle of the week when our staff picks below were made for this game, money has been heavy on Iowa in this game and the line has dramatically shifted to Iowa -23! The Hawkeyes have not beaten any team other than North Texas and Northwestern by that type of margin this season, so excuse the Hawkeyes if this looks like a sleepy walkthrough between rivalry games against Minnesota last week and Nebraska this week.
Plus, the pageantry of emotion of Senior Day can sometimes lull the veterans into a strange zone, outside the normal game day comfort zone. Add all this up, and Purdue may have a chance to punch Iowa in the mouth, so to speak, and hang around while the pressure builds to maintain the perfect season.
If Iowa loses this game, the trap game factor and those strange circumstances and pressures will likely be partially to blame. Purdue can certainly hope so!
2 Key Stats:
— 211.7 and 209.6. That’s Iowa’s rushing offense average (2nd in B1G), and Purdue’s rushing defense average (last in B1G), respectively. Make no mistake about it, this is a game where Kirk Ferentz and his coaching staff would prefer to lean heavily on the stable of running backs and not so much on C.J. Beathard. Keeping the key quarterback healthy heading into a short week before Black Friday is crucial, and the good news is Purdue has struggled to contain good running backs all season long. Expect some season-high workloads for everyone except Jordan Canzeri, who of course had some ridiculous numbers for carries early in Big Ten season. Also note that Purdue’s rushing offense ranks last in the Big Ten (128.9 yards per game) while Iowa’s defense ranks third (104.6 yards per game), which indicates only one team should be able to grind time of possession in this contest.
— 13 (Iowa) and 12 (Purdue). That’s the interception totals on the season. These teams stand at the top of the pack in the Big Ten when it comes to generating turnovers with pass coverage. With talented players like Iowa’s Desmond King looking to set new program records in this department, look for both teams to try and capitalize on any mistakes David Blough and C.J. Beathard may make. Indeed, if this number and turnovers in general slant in Purdue’s favor, then that is one path to a potential program-enhancing victory for the Boilermakers.
3 Key Players:
Markell Jones, Purdue RB – In a season filled with fresh faces (again) and some struggles on offense, one bright spot that has emerged is Jones, who is running for 69 yards per game. Jones has also had 9 touchdowns over his 10 games played, which ranks 7th in the Big Ten in that category. As noted above, the Hawkeyes appear to have a huge advantage in the comparable rushing attacks, which means Jones will need to have a breakout day to help Purdue keep up with the Iowa stable of running backs. Likewise, Jones doing well may take pressure off David Blough, which is critical when facing defensive backs like…
Desmond King, Iowa KR/DB – There are a lot of unsung heroes on the Hawkeye football team, but King is not one of them. In addition to already tying the program record at Iowa with 8 interceptions, he has contributed 7 pass break-ups and he ranks in the top 3 in the conference at kick return and punt return average. This is the most dangerous big-play weapon on the field for the Hawkeyes, and he doesn’t even play offense! Purdue will always have to cover kicks and punts well to avoid the biggest threat King provides.
Josey Jewell, Iowa LB – It’s also time to give some love to the “other guys” on the Iowa defense. Jewell is coming off a great game against Indiana a couple weeks ago where it felt like he made 20+ tackles and was always involved in sniffing out the play. He has rocketed up the conference charts to 5th in tackles with 90 already on the season, which of course also leads the team as well. Purdue will likely test the mid-range passing and run defenses of Iowa to try and generate offensive productivity, which leaves Jewell and his fellow linebackers as the most important line of defense this week against Purdue’s schemes. Look for another huge game for Jewell against an Indiana football team.
4 Bold Prognostications:
C.J. Beathard doesn’t play the second half – Despite all the potential for a trap game or a slow start alluded to above, I think Iowa will take care of business in the first half and hold a comfortable lead, at least by their standards. When that occurs, there will be no reason to further jeopardize the groin or any other aching part of the most important player to the Hawkeyes’ offense. Whoever the backup quarterback is, he better be ready to play on Saturday afternoon.
David Blough throws two interceptions, one to King to break the Iowa record – This is Iowa’s final home game and it would be incredible to see how this fan base cheers or reacts to a very old record finally falling. Blough has been prone to mistakes this year, especially when pressured, and I expect the Iowa defensive line to generate good pressure in this contest. Thus, King breaks the interception record with his ninth and provides yet another big play to push Iowa towards another program record, 11-0.
Leshun Daniels has the most carries for Iowa – The Hawkeyes will spread the opportunities around with the likes of Jordan Canzeri, Akrum Wadley, and Derrick Mitchell to go along with Daniels, but this is a game where Daniels skill set should shine against the Purdue defense. Canzeri and maybe Wadley could end up with one or two explosive plays that end up in a bigger yardage output, Daniels should be the workhorse than Iowa rides to long touchdown drives.
Purdue converts three fourth downs – One stat that looks better for Purdue is fourth-down efficiency, where the Boilermakers convert 51.5% of the time. Iowa is one of the worst teams in the conference at defending such plays, giving up 53% conversions on fourth down. With Purdue potentially reaching desperate times in this one, I expect a number of fourth down attempts as Darrell Hazell has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this game. If that happens, the numbers say Purdue will pick up multiple fourth-down conversions, which will stand out in the final stat line.
5 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Iowa 41-10 (78-20 overall; 46-51 ATS)
Dave: Iowa 34-14 (81-17 overall; 51-45 ATS)
Greg: Iowa 45-13 (74-26 overall; 54-42 ATS)
Matt: Iowa 37-21 (78-20 overall; 56-40 ATS)
Phil: Iowa 31-10 (33-12 overall; 15-27 ATS) *joined in Week 5
Every Big Ten West team’s biggest recruiting battle before national signing day
It seems like only yesterday that a Big Ten team was hoisting the national championship trophy, but we’re actually inching closer to the biggest day of the offseason — national signing day.
That means recruits are taking last-minute visits, coaches are crisscrossing the country to visit players and offers are going out on a nearly daily basis. To say these next few weeks will be crazy is a bit of an understatement, however the Big Ten is in on some major battles nationally and regionally as we head down the homestretch of the 205 recruiting cycle.
That means every team is putting out maximum effort to get the guys they want to sign to actually sign and fax in national letter of intent on the first Wednesday in February.
It also means that battles are heating up all over the country. Which battles are the Big Ten involved in? Let’s start by looking at the biggest battles for the Big Ten West.