B1G Uglies - The Big Ten Champ Pick
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) Should the Big Ten stop at fourteen teams, or look to further expand?
Taking time to really assess the situation might be the best course of action at this point. The shoulder tap of Maryland and Rutgers didn't just come out of left field, it came from the rooftop bleachers, and it might be time to make sure the next move is one of sensibility and strategy rather than rushed positioning for the future. But who knows if that will really happening with so many rumors circulating in a free-for-all game of picking your dodge ball team.
Nobody would blame the Big Ten (yeah right) for trying to create the first super-conference with the playoffs looming, but the moves that are made now can't be taken back. Whether the goal is media expansion, or quality of football expansion remains to be seen, but it's time to see how everybody else reacts before blazing a path of carelessness. You get one shot at this massive change in the football landscape and that's it.
I'll take it a step further.The conference probably should have stopped at twelve. Look, I voiced in last week's Uglies, my thoughts on the matter. Now, rumors swirl about Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Notre Dame, just to get a few people who believe it a bit more excited.
The bottom line is, this has college dating written all over it. Date, scurry around all you want. Find out who's interested and who's not. But the relationship part? Avoid that until you find the ten that cooks, cleans, and doesn't mind your odd habits during football season. And if she doesn't come along, you keep waiting until she does an enjoy the time until then.
Well, that ship has obviously sailed, and there's no reason to expand until you get back to the basics. Yeah, so you had a few flings that you committed to that left your friends scratching their heads. There's still time and life to learn and hold out for the ten, re-earning respect.
But please, don't expand for the sake of expanding. Unless the over-riding goal is the same as other mega conferences...have unbalanced schedules that give advantages to the contenders, then watch two to three of your teams get forced into the national title conversation because you slyly helped them avoid playing games that might knock them out. Used to be that only nationally, we had no idea how teams could match up because they never played. Now that's regionally. STOP. In the name of college football.
Maybe -- it depends on who's in the mix.
As I said in last week's Big Uglies, I am completely against the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. Sure, these institutions give the Big Ten more exposure in some key TV markets, but they don't make the conference any stronger. Since the talent level in the B1G is significantly higher than it is in the Big East and ACC, it will be several years before the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights would be able to do anything to help the overall profile of the conference.
The only way that the Big Ten should expand is if it can land two teams that can improve the quality of the league. Unfortunately, the only way of accomplishing this task is to lure an institution or two from an existing power conference (see: Not ACC or Big East).
Otherwise, it should stay put. With Big Ten transplants all over the country, the conference's footprint is already much larger than most people realize.
(ii) Who will win the Big Ten Championship game, Nebraska or Wisconsin?
This is as underwhelming and back door of a game as the conference could ask for. Wisconsin is there only because Ohio State cannot be, and might allow a very Big East looking five loss team into a BCS game. Somewhere, the actual Big Uglies are in tears.
Nebraska is there (don't...talk...about...the...refs) because Denard Robinson got hurt and Devin Gardner wasn't healthy enough to play quarterback, it sure looks like at this point. So the B1G is left with probably its two most complete teams not in the game. The less complete team is probably going to be Nebraska, for Jim Delany's sake.
Whatever it is, Wisconsin has just seemed a tick off this season, not being the dominant group they were assumed to be. Meanwhile, Nebraska is "peaking" if you can call it that, on a six game win streak since giving up 63 to Ohio State. Nebraska's more versatile offense will end up being the trump card in this game, as Taylor Martinez has sneakily gotten to be a much better passer, and of the two teams, the Huskers are more adept at closing out games. If it's close, that bodes well for Nebraska.
Time to cast the vote and break the tie. Even though Nebraska won the first meeting, the Badgers will win the rematch.
I have three reasons for making this bold prediction.
First, whenever teams meet twice in the same season, the team that lost the first matchup almost always wins the second time around. Last year's national championship game was a prime example, as was last season's Big Ten title game, when Wisconsin avenged a last-second loss to Michigan State.
Second, the Badgers are significantly better on defense than they were the last time these two squads met. After its poor showing against the ‘Huskers, the Wisconsin D has played like a team on a mission, holding six of its next seven opponents to under 300 yards. That doesn't bode well for a Nebraska offense that struggled against Iowa last week.
Finally, Wisconsin has won the past two Big Ten championships. The Badgers wouldn't be playing for a third consecutive Rose Bowl berth if they didn't have a knack for winning big games. They don't much bigger than the conference championship game.
Maybe it sounds crazy, but I too really like Wisconsin here. Yeah the Badgers have five losses (four in conference), but those all could have gone either way with three losses in overtime and two by three points. In the first meeting, the Badgers were still trying to find a quarterback, the offensive line was still gelling, and the coaching staff was trying to turn the corner.
Since then, Mon-tay Ball has become Mont-ee Ball again, things are more understood between the players and coaches, and there is still more production out of the quarterback position (whether Curt Phillips or Joel Stave) than what Danny O'Brien brought to the table.
In the end, I like the Badgers to make much more hay on the ground than it did in the first matchup against the ‘Huskers. If that plays out, that means Wisconsin can keep the explosive Nebraska offense off the field, score more, and wear down a Nebraska defense that got tired against an Ohio State team. Wisky takes it and you heard it hear first--or second thanks to Terry.
(iii) Who is set up better for future success in the league, Minnesota or Indiana? Why?
Even though both teams have bright futures ahead of them, Minnesota gets the nod here.
As well as Indiana has played this season, they're still a season or two away from challenging for the conference championship. Sure, the offense has shown flashes of brilliance at times, the defense has been absolutely atrocious this season, ranking at the bottom of the conference in virtually every statistical category. That's not going to get it done against the explosive offenses of the Big Ten.
On the other hand, the Gophers are ready to win now. After finishing 10th in the conference in total defense last season, the Minnesota D is literally a Top 25 defense this year, allowing just over 336 yards per contest. While the offense hasn't made as much progress as the defense this year, Gopher fans have to be encouraged by what they've seen from Max Shortell and Phillip Nelson so far. They will only get better under the watchful eye of Jerry Kill, who's already engineered remarkable turnarounds at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois.
That's a tough call, but I'm going the opposite of Terry and going with Indiana--purely and simply because I have a little more faith in the type of game Kevin Wilson brings to Bloomington. One needs only to look at where another team, Northwestern was, before it became a very competitive team in the league and compare that to Indiana's plight. Do you remember who helped bring the Wildcats to respectability in the league? Sure there were many hands in the pot, but Wilson had a residence in the Chicagoland area from 1999 to 2001.
He, along with Randy Walker helped revolutionize the Northwestern offense into a spread attack that many across the country copied. Northwestern instantly became more competitive and still have variations of that offense embedded in its DNA today. Yes, there was even a Big Ten title in there in 2000.
After the 2001 season, Wilson then moved on to Oklahoma and kept the offense rolling for Bob Stoops for many very good teams in Norman. He has made a difference on the offensive side of the ball everywhere he's been, and you can see signs of it happening in Bloomington too. Now about that defense....
Phil is on the money with it being a close call. It's a week old steak at Applebee's, forgotten under the heat lamp tough. If both are a stock, I'm buying it. Both coaches took bleach to the roster. Minnesota has played close to 40 freshmen and redshirt freshmen this year. Indiana lost over 40 players to defections as well and have had to replace them. Overhaul in both areas.
The call here though is Indiana as well, and that's not a Kill shot to Minnesota. It'll be back to being a fixture in bowl games. The lean for me is, since I don't think either coaching staff has an inherent advantage over the other, is the schedule going forward.
Purdue could be in upheaval depending on how this next hire goes. Either way, there's a recruiting and schematic curve with a new staff, typically. It's very possible they go a different direction if they don't make the right hire. Illinois already has, and at the moment has regressed. Not to say it's guaranteed, but it's a rebuilding project. Penn State's sanctions will begin to sap it of depth in heavy ways, and that's not replaced easily.
So Kevin Wilson has a roster of "his guys" that are buying into his high octane offensive scheme and a future that is littered with uncertainty around the programs in his division. Now, if only those Indiana fans would just get to the stadium...
Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, Bart @Bart_CFN, and Terry @TPJCollFootball