Pat Fitzgerald

2014 Big Ten Predictions

The Big Ten conference season kicks off in full today.  It’s time to predict how the teams will finish in each division.

This is an exciting year for the conference.  Not because of the two new teams (I want to say Maryland and Rutabaga?), but because we are finally done with the very pompous – and incredibly unhelpful – Legends and Leaders divisions.  Giving in to common sense at last, Jim Delaney has gone with simple, geographic divisions.  Let’s start in the West.

West Division

  1. Wisconsin.  I don’t necessarily think the Badgers are the best team in the division, but they do have some good talent led by RB Melvin Gordon.  Most importantly, the de facto division championship game against Nebraska is in Madison.  That game will likely decide who gets to go to Indianapolis.
  2. Nebraska.  The Cornhuskers have strong candidates for Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year (RB Ameer Abdullah and DE Randy Gregory, respectively).  They have strong talent as most of the other positions, and Bo Pelini appears to be turning a corner as a coach.  So why is NU not in the top spot?  There are concerns about depth (the defense looked rather ordinary without Gregory), but mostly it is about Big Red’s schedule.  Road games at Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all will prove challenging.
  3. Iowa.  Speaking of schedules, the Hawkeyes likely have the easiest path to the title.  The concern with the Hawkeyes is they may not have the arsenal to match Wisconsin and Nebraska.  That said, Iowa tends to be a much better team in November than they are in September.
  4. Minnesota.  The Gophers took some big strides in 2013, including an impressive win over Nebraska and bowl appearance.  The next step is to finish in the top half of the division.  I don’t know if Minnesota has the pieces to do that, but they are capable of beating anybody in the division.
  5. Northwestern.  Admittedly, the last three spots are a bit like picking the prettiest wart on a frog.  I’m not sure that Northwestern is the prettiest, but I think Pat Fitzgerald is the best coach of the bottom three.  That counts for something, right?
  6. Illinois.  The Illini have not been very impressive so far in 2014, and their 3-1 record has been done largely with smoke and mirrors.  Yet, they get the benefit of the doubt for not  being Purdue.
  7. Purdue.  This team was the worst of the Leaders, and I feel confident in saying that they will be the lest of the West – unless Illinois is really, really bad.

East Division

  1. Michigan State.  The Spartans are easily the best team in the conference, and despite the loss to Oregon, they should not be ruled out of the CFB playoff – especially if they dominate the conference offensively and defensively.
  2. Ohio State.  Truth be told, I’d really like to put Penn State here, but Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have a stellar conference record the last few years.  Until it’s proven they cannot keep winning Big Ten games, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Penn State.  New coach James Franklin is the rock star of the conference, and his team is playing with his confidence and swagger.  QB Christian Hackenberg is developing into a top flite quarterback, but the sanctions will hurt depth over the long haul of a season.
  4. Rutgers.  Admittedly, I know very little about the new kids on the block.  But Rutgers (I want to say they are the Scarlet Pumpernickels?) has played well in their first four games, including a narrow loss to Penn State.
  5. Indiana.  Here’s something you don’t see every day:  The Hoosiers easily have the best win in the B1G non-conference season (a victory over a ranked SEC team, no less).  Even if that SEC team is Mizzou, it’s still a big feather for a conference that needs all the positive praise it can get.  Now, will that translate into conference success?  I’d like the Hoosiers’ chances much more if they were in the West.
  6. Maryland.  Like Rutgers, I’m not very familiar with Maryland (if only I had done that ACC power ranking last year…).  Like Rutgers, Maryland has also played well in their first four games, although losing to West Virginia may be telling.
  7. Michigan.  The good news from Michigan’s non-conference slate:  they did not lose to FCS Appalachian State.  The bad news:  pretty much everything else.  Things are going to get much worse in Ann Arbor before they get better.  Big Ten fans outside of Ann Arbor should try to stifle their smiles.

Big Ten Championship:  If these predictions hold to form, we’re looking at Michigan State and Wisconsin matching up in Indy.  I like the Spartans to win by 17 points.

Dark horse prediction:  Nebraska and Ohio State face off in an epic battle ending in a heartbreaking loss for Husker fans.

Husker Hot Takes – 7/28/2014

Before we turn our attention to the flood of coach speak and clichés from Big Ten media days in Chicago, let’s review some of the things in the news recently:

1. College Football country is in a Watch List warning.

July is the time when every college football award puts out their preseason watch list.  The Huskers were well represented with Ameer Abdullah, Randy Gregory, and Kenny Bell (among others) making a list.  Personally, I’ve always thought watch lists were rather silly.  The lists aren’t exactly exclusive:  do we really need to watch 53 running backs for the Doak Walker Award?  That is over 40% of the starting running backs in FBS.  Nor is the award limited to the preseason candidates – Jameis Winston won the 2013 Walter Camp Award, but he wasn’t on the watch list.  And there are the curious or obligatory choices:  no disrespect to Mark Pelini, but I’m pretty sure it is a Rimington Award bylaw that Nebraska’s starting center be placed on their watch list.

About the only good thing watch lists do is help pass the time until the season starts.

2.  Attention recruits:  Nebraska is not one big cornfield (and the people are nice too!)

Nebraska recently put out a new video aimed at recruits:

I don’t follow recruiting very closely, but I know a lot of recruits and current players start out under the impression that Memorial Stadium is in the middle of a cornfield.  Before kickoff, they have to shoo the cattle off the field and everybody drives a tractor to class.  You and I may think that perception is silly (and an indictment on our nation’s social studies education) but it exists.  Even if a recruit doesn’t believe that himself, he’s probably hearing it from his buddies – or from coaches at other schools.

The other major theme is that we have nice people in Nebraska.  I’m not sure if that is relevant because people are jerks everywhere else, or if saying “you will be recognized and treated like a celebrity here” is an NCAA violation.  Regardless, I like hearing nice things from Nebraska’s student-athletes, and hopefully the peer-to-peer message hits home.

I really like this video.  It addressed a major issue  head on.  Break down the cornfield myth and show that Lincoln is a vibrant city with more to do than many other college towns.  Best of all, it shows that somebody in North Stadium is listening to the concerns of recruits/parents and is doing something about it.  This video probably won’t be what sways Johnny Fivestar to put on the Nebraska cap at his hat ceremony, but it won’t hurt NU’s chances.

3.  Pat Fitzgerald thinks Nebraska is “boring”.

First off, let’s keep in mind that Fitzgerald’s remarks were a) said at a booster event, and b) meant to inspire Wildcat fans to not allow another Nebraska takeover in October.  As booster function smack talk goes, Fitz’s “boring” comment is pretty mild.  Tim Miles says worse things about Creighton in most of his press conferences.

And let’s address the elephant in the room:  Nebraska, as a whole, is kind of boring.  That’s not a slap at The Good Life, it’s just acknowledging that many parts of our great state do not have round the clock excitement – especially once you get west of Lincoln.   It is what it is, and I believe that most Nebraskans wouldn’t have it any other way.

But back to Fitzgerald…Now, I’m assuming that for his comparison, he is considering Northwestern as a part of Chicago, and not as a part of the suburb of Evanston (population 75,430) or the rest of Illinois.  Because having traveled in and through Illinois many times over the years, I can attest that Illinois west of Chicago looks identical to Nebraska west of Lincoln – a lot of farmland, open spaces, and other things that some consider “boring”.  Heck, I’m not even sure Fitzgerald would Evanston itself up against Lincoln.  I haven’t made it to very many Big Ten campuses yet, but from what I know, I’d put Lincoln up against many of them in terms of things to do.

Here is a completely off the top of my head (and probably wildly inaccurate) list of B1G campus towns.  I’m talking about the actual town itself, not the metro area or any cities within a 50 mile radius (i.e. Minnesota gets St. Paul, but not Minneapolis).  From sizzlin’ to snoozin’.

  1. Columbus, OH
  2. Madison, WI
  3. St. Paul, MN
  4. Lincoln, NE
  5. Ann Arbor, MI
  6. Bloomington, IN
  7. Evanston, IL
  8. Iowa City, IA
  9. East Lansing, MI
  10. Champaign, IL
  11. College Park, MD
  12. Piscataway, NJ
  13. West Lafayette, IN
  14. State College, PA

Obviously, we’re looking at the 30 mile radius from campus, Northwestern is probably at the top of the list.  But Nebraska would still be closer to the top than to the bottom.

Bottom line:  If you were truly offended by what Pat Fitzgerald said, the best way to get revenge is to be wearing red in Evanston (or better yet, inside Ryan Stadium) on October 18.

4.  When will Nebraska play dress up?

There is all sorts of speculation on if Nebraska will wear alternative uniforms in 2014 (of course they will), when they will be revealed (likely in the next 10 days), and what game they’ll be worn (my guess is at Wisconsin).  For me, biggest drama is if this is the year they put something besides the sans-serif “N” on the side of the helmet, and if adidas will give Nebraska something truly unique and beautiful, or if they’ll give them a cookie cutter alternative like they have done in the past.

While we’re on the subject of messing with the traditional uniform, I wonder if Nebraska would ever replace the red elements on the helmet with pink for breast cancer awareness month?  We’ve seen a lot of players sporting pink accessories the last few Octobers, a pink “N” and pink stripe would certainly be bold and attention-getting for a program that seems to embrace viral buzz.

5.  A skeleton from NU’s mascot closet is unearthed for the Internet’s amusement.

A picture of one of Nebraska’s old mascots has been making the rounds on Twitter.  The picture is usually accompanied by some joke about the nightmares that will follow viewing this image.

Still better than some of the old Herbies.

Admittedly, that’s not exactly the pinnacle of mascots, even if it was 60 years ago.  (Haters of Lil’ Red or polo shirt Herbie Husker can insert their own jokes here).  But I don’t mind him.  If you check out this page, you’ll notice that cob headed friend is better than some of the other mascots in school history.  Besides, this guy (what was he known as?  Kernel Husker?) is still better than either of the paper mache Petes (Purdue Pete or Pistol Pete at Okie State).

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