The B1G Uglies - Week 12
Three writers that can’t quite agree on anything are ready to sling mud at one another once again. The topic? All things Big Ten of course. It’s time for Phil Harrison, Bart Doan, and Terry Johnson to solve the world’s problem one first down at a time in the heartland. It’s the B1G Uglies.
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The B1G Uglies: 3 BIG TEN HOT TOPICS POST WEEK TEN
(i) Who wins between Nebraska and Michigan State this week?
The game is in Lincoln so you’d like to think that would help the ‘Huskers -- and it likely will to a degree -- but the Spartans seem to have found an identity finally, and are getting better by the week. On top of that, when in doubt go with the team that has more experience at quarterback in a big game. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can bank on the team that has the best shot at taking the other out of what it wants to do.
If we’re playing by those rules, then Sparty has it all over the Cornhuskers. Look, Connor Cook isn’t the second coming of Joe Montana, but he’s become quite the “game-manager” that has gained the coaches confidence. He’ll hand it off more often than not, but he’s been able to make enough big plays at key moments to move the chains and score just enough. On the other sideline, it looks like Bo Pelini’s squad will be inserting freshman Tommy Armstrong, Jr. into the hornets nest that is the Spartan defense.
Good luck with that.
The reality is that Michigan State is the better team right now that has a defense that should be able to give the Nebraska offense a super-wedgie and swirly all at the same time. My money is on the Spartans taking care of business. Look for Nebraska to make it a game for a half and then the bully will start to ask for lunch money and wear out Big Red late.
Ditto. Like a girl you can’t quit, one day you wake up and say “she adds nothing, and I’m tired of paying for expensive wine” so you give up the old habit and move on. I’m done doubting Michigan State. It’s proven too much, sits in the top five nationally in scoring, total, passing, and rushing defense. The Spartans can’t be thrown on. The Spartans can’t be run on. And they can’t be out-toughed. They’re that perfect marriage of ornery and talented with a chip on their shoulder.
The big key though is, as always, the lesser talented side of the ball. Connor Cook at QB has made great strides since Michigan State entered the season in a sloppy effort under center against Western Michigan and you didn’t know if 2013 was just a remake of 2012 with a few new cast members and a notable lost star in Le’veon Bell. But Cook, aside from a hiccup at Purdue in the wind, has shown steady improvement in his completion percentage, setting a school record against Illinois at his zenith. That would be higher if his receivers would hold onto the football more often. So basically, long story short, Michigan State wins by about 10 or so, because really, all they ever seem to need is about 10 or so.
Although it's never happened before, Michigan State will defeat Nebraska this weekend.
Whenever two heavyweights collide, the team with the better defense will almost always prevail. The Spartans have the best run defense in the country, allowing just 1.6 yards per carry. Without a ground game to rely on, the Cornhuskers to turn to backup QB's Tommy Armstrong, Jr and/or Ron Kellogg III to beat the MSU defense through the air. Given that Sparty has recorded 14 of its 25 sacks in the past 3 games, and hasn't allowed a 300-yard passer this season, it's tough to see Nebraska scoring enough points to win.
Even if the Big Red Machine can scrape out a couple of scores, it's still going to struggle against the Michigan State offense. Sure, the Spartans don't have the video game-like numbers that some of the other B1G offenses do, but they’re running for an average of 193 yards per game in conference play. That doesn’t bode well for the Blackshirt defense, which has surrendered over 200 yards on the ground in 5 of its 9 contests this year.
It's also worth noting that MSU is 14-0 since 2009 when it runs for 200 yards or more.
No matter how you slice it, that spells “Advantage Spartans”.
(ii) Reports out of Lincoln suggest Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez may be done for the year. What will be the senior signal-caller’s legacy?
”Legacy questions” are always tougher than a $3 steak … or any mystery meat at Golden Corral that one stumbles across, but at least we didn’t create the “why is Michigan so bad” copy and paste piece we could be using endlessly. In the case of Martinez, he leaves as the record holder for total offense, passing yards, and touchdown passes, but understand that’s at a school that treated the forward pass like leprosy in the Biblical times (or MTV treats “music videos” today) … they didn’t really need it around. Still, that’s impressive chops as you head out the door.
Honestly, his legacy is that or at least reminds me of Kyle Orton of Purdue, and this isn’t just a ploy to get Orton in here just because he too is an admitted Seinfeld lover.
Orton, like Martinez, looked after his freshman year that he’d be setting all kinds of records and maybe bring a championship or two in tow. Didn’t happen that way, but both overall leave as success stories who probably fell expectations-victims to their own freshman talent than anything else.
Honestly, you’d probably have to ask a Nebraska fan this one, but from this vantage point, he’s cinnamon babka. Not chocolate, but cinnamon still takes a back seat to no one. Okay. I’m done.
He won't go down as the greatest quarterback in Nebraska history, but Taylor Martinez left a lasting impression on the program. Future signal callers will have a lot to live up to.
Make no mistake about it: Martinez was easily the most dynamic trigger man to have ever played in Lincoln. In his three plus season as a starter, he rewrote the Cornhusker record book, setting the career mark for completions, passing touchdowns, passing yardage, and total offense.
It's tough to argue with those results.
Unfortunately, these stellar numbers aren't enough to put him into the “who's the greatest Husker QB of all time” discussion. After all, Nebraska never won a conference championship with Martinez at the helm, losing four games in each of his three full seasons. Without a title of any kind under his belt, most fans will consider Martinez to be just a step behind Turner Gill, Tommie Frazier, and Scott Frost.
I agree that Martinez has been a talented kid playing the quarterback position at a school that has historically imposed black-out dates on air-miles. He’s also still been able to use his legs and put together many a highlight clips in his time in Lincoln. He’s been a difference maker in many games that could have gone south.
To fall in step with Terry, the glaring issue with his “legacy” is that there is nary a championship of any kind (no we don’t count division titles in the discussion). And while I’m not one to pull out the whole “how many rings does he have” argument as the ultimate barometer for a career, the dearth of any titles isn’t going to build statues and monuments on campus. It’s also not going to name any burgers after him at the local watering hole.
It’s why Tommy Frazier and Scott Frost and Eric Crouch are adored by ‘Husker faithful. They all didn’t go out and put on an air and pyrotechnics show, but each was tougher than nails, were winners, and … they won championships.
So back to center-field here -- Taylor Martinez will go down as a fringe superstar in Lincoln whose skill-set improved but got derailed by injury. He was beloved at times by Nebraska fans, and caused a few coronaries along the way as well. Truth be told, he never lived up to his full potential, and no league championships, and no national titles will leave him as a face in the crowd.
(iii) Who gets your nod for Big Ten Coach of the Year if the award were handed out today?
I've got two coaches of the year. They are Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys.
Let's be honest: Minnesota is the most pleasant surprise in college football this year. Sure, most of us expected them to be a much better team this season, but even the most optimistic Gopher fan wouldn't have predicted the school's first win over Nebraska since 1960. With four consecutive Big Ten victories for the first time since 1973, Minnesota is just an upset and a bowl win away from a 10-win season.
Why's that important? UM has only won more than 10 games twice since 1905.
That ought to speak volumes about what the Minnesota head coaches have accomplished this year. While Kill deserves a lot of credit for transforming the program into a winner, Claeys should be commended for keeping the train rolling in his absence. Expect to see his name linked to several head coaching jobs during the offseason.
Okay, I’ll sell out, go obvious and highlight Urban Meyer. Why? At a place like Ohio State, coaches can get overlooked. You’re expected to win, so win it happens nobody writes your a glowing letter to mom. Meyer already got overlooked last year in the Big Ten despite taking a team that had little to play for to an unblemished 12-o record. Instead -- as is usually the case -- a coach whose team surpasses expectations got the nod. In other words, congrats to Bill O’Brien … you took a turd of situation and shined it up.
Fast forward to this year, and Meyer is at it again. Yeah he’s got a super-talented quarterback in Braxton Miller, but he was injured for three games. He had talent on defense, but it was, and still is young and still rounding into form. He’s still getting a relatively new coaching staff with several former head-coaches to learn to put their egos aside, mesh, and all play in the sandbox nice together. The result? Yeah, you know it. OSU is 10 up and nil down, has won 21-straight games (which just happens to be the longest in the nation), and sits at No. 3 in the BCS standings, knocking, waiting ... for FSU or Alabama to fall so that he can add another national title next to his name.
Yes, Urban Meyer is a good coach and he deserves to be recognized for what he has done in Columbus. Will he get it? Who knows. Jim Tressel never won a Big Ten coach of the year with all of those conference rings and a crystal football to boot, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the man leading the charge in Columbus got passed up again.
Regardless, let’s start a grassroots campaign now shall we?
As “obvious” as it would be to agree and say Urban Meyer (it’s been a shocking 33 years since a Buckeye coach won the award), don’t you have to go with Mark Dantonio of Michigan State? No, really, I’m asking you, and stuff.
Think about it: Dantonio lost his most feared offensive weapon (go up to question number 1 with the scroll bar thingy), needed a win over Minnesota to even go to a bowl game last year, and all of the sudden has MSU as a near-lock to play for the B1G title. To me, that’s impressive enough to merit the award.
Coaching at its core isn’t about drawing up plays in the sand so much as it is the ability to consistently motivate people to giving their best effort more consistently than the guys across the field in the other shirts. No one’s re-inventing the wheel in sports, and Dantonio gets everything out of his players. Everything. And thus, he should be awarded for doing so.
Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, Bart @Bart_CFN, and Terry @TPJCollFootball