B1G Uglies: The Big Ten Hot Topics
At the conclusion of each week's games, Phil Harrison, Bart Doan, and Terry Johnson discuss three hot topics on the minds of fans of the Big Ten. It's three guys with three opinions that could change the course of human history--or at least add some clarity to football being played in the Midwest. It's the weekly B1G Uglies roundtable.
The B1G Uglies: 3 BIG TEN HOT TOPICS TO IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS
(i) Michigan seems to struggle without Denard Robinson in the lineup. Should Michigan fans be worried about how the Wolverines will fare next year after he is lost to graduation?
In the long run the Maize and Blue will be fine, but there will be some growing pains next year as Brady Hoke finally gets a chance to break into the system that he wants to use. RIght now, Denard Robinson is, well...Denard Robinson--so the coaching staff has delayed the type of program they want to bring to the Big House. The electric Robinson gives the team the best chance to win and so the spread look/running game is best suited for his talents.
Ah but wait,in case you haven't noticed, Michigan is pulling in some strapping young men in recruiting, so athletic talent won't be an issue--at all. The problem is going to be the breaking in of a new system, one that will be more of a traditional pro-set with more utilization of weapons than the one-trick pony offense that is being displayed these days.
Breaking in a new QB at the time of a new offensive system has to take its toll, so look for the winged helmets struggle a bit next year. Not bottom of the Big Ten struggle, but unlikely to be shooting for a title. But look out in the future as Hoke gets things going.
No, it's not worth worrying about. This system wasn't made for Denard Robinson. When Brady Hoke got the job, Shoelace was all but assured to transfer due to Hoke and Al Borges more pro style, huddle system. But Robinson stayed, and as I assumed a reward, he remained the starter in a system that neither coach or player really is great for. Too often you've seen Robinson try to go through his reads when 15 yards of open green are ahead, something he was taught to take with the previous regime. Too often you've seen Borges show flaccid play calling because Robinson can't necessarily make all the accurate throws in his pro system. It's been a match made at least in Purgatory.
The answer won't be Russ Bellomy...as evidenced by the team moving Devin Gardner under center for practice again this week, but incoming stud freshman Shane Morris or Gardner...strong, tall passers...will take over the pro-style offense with much more success because they have more of the throws. What Hoke and staff...and Robinson, to his credit...have done with an offense not fit for either party has been pretty top shelf tequila. As absurd as this sounds, look for Michigan to improve on offense next year.
No, Michigan fans shouldn't worry about losing Denard Robinson at the end of the season.
Make no mistake about it: Robinson is clearly the most dynamic signal caller in the Wolverines' storied history. No other Maize and Blue QB presented more problems for opposing defenses than Shoelace did.
However, the offense will continue to thrive without him. Brady Hoke has never shied away from playing an underclassman at QB, which would make Ann Arbor a popular landing spot for the nation's top recruits, knowing that they could compete for playing time right away. More importantly, offensive coordinator Al Borges has a well-documented history of developing next-level QB's including Cade McNown, Jason Campbell, and Ryan Lindley.
In other words, the Wolverines will either land one of the country's most elite recruits or Al Borges will coach up someone currently on the staff, or both.
Either way, Big Blue fans win.
(ii) What kind of chance does Indiana have towards representing the Leaders division in Indianapolis? No, really....
Sobering fact for B1G lovers? If Indiana beats scuffling Iowa at home (possible, some might say likely) and upsets Wisconsin, it will likely represent the Leaders division in the championship game.
How about THAT? There's a chance, but Lloyd Christmas had a better one with that red headed girl who's name escapes me in Dumb and Dumber. IU is young and improving, but it's hard to suggest it's at that level yet.
Still, the numbers are what they say they are, and the Hoosiers are playing their best football at the right time while Wisconsin is filling the bucket at the end of their ankles regularly and Purdue has fallen right off the cliff. Credit Kevin Wilson and staff for keeping this brood hungry, together, and believing. It was their first B1G win since 2010.
The problem is the same thing with Indiana every year...which is size. The Hoosiers have made upgrades in speed and physicality, but it's hard to see them winning the trenches in Madison. But the fact that we're analyzing whether or not it could happen and what it means says the program is at least on the on ramp to success. Now if IU could just get a few of its fans to take notice.
I hate to be the naysayer in the group, but Indiana will not represent the Leaders Division in the B1G Championship game.
Yes, it's certainly possible for the Hoosiers to play for the conference championship. If IU defeats Iowa and Wisconsin in the next two weeks, it would need only to win one of its last two games to finish 4-4 in conference play. While that lead might not seem safe, the Badgers would have to defeat both Penn State and Ohio State to win the division. With the way those two squads have been playing, that's not likely to happen.
However, just because something is possible does not mean that it's probable. Indiana hasn't beaten either Wisconsin or Iowa since 2007, and hasn't beaten both of them in the same season since 1979. Even if they manage to beat the Hawkeyes, a loss to the Badgers would give the Hoosiers a fourth defeat in conference play, making it impossible to overtake Bret Bielema's team in the final standings.
Agreed that there's a chance, but there's also a chance I'm going to win the next HGTV Dream Home. In other words, no betting man would look to capitalize on the prospects of the idea. It's true that Indiana controls its own destiny, but that's only because two teams in the league have tapped out because of sanctions. Illinois and Purdue aren't going anywhere but home for the holidays, so that leaves just two teams with any kind of chance, Wisconsin and, yeah--Indiana for the Leaders division representative.
In fact, with the win last week, Indiana just has to beat Iowa and Wisconsin in back to back weeks at home to be in the drivers seat. And while Iowa is looking more beatable by the minute, there's a pretty good chance that Wisconsin will pound Indiana's defense into the Lee Corso days and clinch a shot to Indy.
So, the good news? Indiana is much more competitive, but it would be wise to simply try and get into position to sneak into a bowl game. That's a little more realistic, but still sadly a stretch goal.
(iii) Will TIm Beckman get things turned around at Illinois?
My initial reaction to this question was, "Private Joker, I don't believe I heard you correctly". Are people really calling for Tim Beckman's head after less than a full season at Illinois?
Regardless of what people think right now, Beckman will get things turned around in Champaign. Sure, the team has struggled for most of the season, but that's usually the case whenever a new coach takes over. After all, the players need to time adjust to the new schemes.
Judging by Beckman's stint at Toledo, the Illini will eventually be fine. Under Beckman's leadership, the Rockets improved every year, qualifying for a bowl game in just his second season. In fact, Toledo improved so much under his watch that the Rockets nearly upset Ohio State in Columbus last year.
If he can do all that with MAC-level talent, how much more could he do with a talented Illinois squad, that has yet to reach its full potential?
Struggling a bit in a coach's first season is one thing, falling to the doormat of the league is another. That being said, there's really only one way to go isn't there?
The exile of Ron Zook was cheered from Chicago to St. Louis, but not many thought things would be nearly as bad as they have been this year. Quite frankly, the Illini have lost their "fight" and appear to be a team that has given up on the season. The defense has provided about as much resistance as a wet paper towel, and the offense has struggled to slip into the new Beckman clothing.
Still, you have to give the guy a chance to get his recruits in the fold, fully install his system and then go from there. Beckman proved he could turn Toledo into a force to be reckoned with in the MAC, and given time, you have to like his chances of turning things around modestly at Illinois, but it'll be hard to be a superpower with Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan State in the same neighborhood.
Bottom line: win a LOT more next year or else the sound of the clock ticking will get much louder.
Simmer down, people. It's the first year. Holy Toledo, knee jerk reaction much? Beckman has endured much worse of a season than anyone expected, but in candid moments he has revealed the feelings of impending doom on his team stemming from last year's six-loss collapse. No, no one expected a gutter clubbing on Homecoming by Indiana, but are we really at the point where we're drilling coaches after their first years? Ron Zook won two games his first year at Illinois. The next year, he was worse, winning two again. Year three was the Rose Bowl year. So there is patience in Champaign.
Beckman's first career stop isn't much of an indicator. Toledo was moribund when he took them over and he simply improved the record marginally in year one before taking off in year two. That typically is the largest leap in improvement in a new system, year one to two.
Beckman has installed a new type of discipline, and a new way to play for these players. People forget how dreadful and trending "down" Illinois was last year. Heck, they nearly had a coach mutiny for their bowl game. That's where this program was. Certainly it wasn't going to be easy.
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