The B1G Uglies - Week 13
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 is your Big Ten offensive player of the year to date?
Anytime you want to discuss a player of the year candidate, there should be one thing that gets asked first: What player would make a team far worse if he weren't available? You see, some guys are products of the system they're in, or a benefactor of the exemplary play of teammates.
For me, that guy this year is Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah? It's impressive enough to note that the junior leads the Big Ten in rushing, but it's even more impressive considering that the ‘Huskers have been without all-everything quarterback Taylor Martinez for the majority of the year to keep opposing defenses on the witness stand.
That means that Abdullah has been a lot like tax season. You know it's coming, but you still can't stop it from arriving with bad intentions. Truth is, opposing defenses have tried to key on the running back, yet he's still been able to average 133.6 yards per game, with a 6.9 per carry average. That's flat out getting it done. The 5'9", 190 lb kid from Homewood, Alabama is shifty, quick and tough. It hasn't been a banner year for the children of the corn, but you have to wonder where Nebraska would be without him.
I hear your Ameer Abdullah, but stay with me here. This question clearly wins the Hilary Duff Pre-Marital Convictions Award for "not easy." There are a lot of guys out there that get talked about more and appear on the television frequently, but don't hide your Lion Eyes (the Eagles should at least suspend my writing for this, seriously). It's Allen Robinson of Penn State.
Why A-Rob? Why not, really? Robinson leads the conference in receiving yards per game and has been instrumental as a decimated PSU team has pushed their way to a 6-4 record with a freshman QB (who's good, mind you). But just because he's good doesn't make it easy. Robinson projects as a top-five wide receiver prospect should the junior enter the NFL draft after this season.
You don't hear a bunch about him, mostly because he plays for a mediocre team with no bowl opportunity, but he's every bit in the class as a Mike Evans or a Sammy Watkins, guys you hear much more about. Robinson possesses the softest hands in football and is a big-play machine at big moments. Go watch the film of PSU's witching hour drive against Michigan this season. That's as good as you'll see receiver play in college football.
As far as the other candidates from more successful teams, look at the realities of them. Braxton Miller seems a logical choice, but then you see that while he's No. 1 in the conference in pass- efficiency, his backup is number two. That sort of suggests that yes, both guys are talented, but yes, the system allows them to flourish. There's very little drop-off from one to the other, which makes it tough to give that award to either when another guy on the roster is capable of replicating it. Same for Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, who is wonderfully impressive … but James White is doing the same thing essentially. No one on PSU's team can do what Robinson can do. So yeah, checkmate. I win this argument. Your move Terry.
I'll disagree with Bart. This one is as simple as Cosmo Kramer's karate matches against eight-year old kids. Braxton Miller wins this award hands down.
Make no mistake about it: Miller's numbers are better than anyone else in the conference. He leads the league in completion percentage, passing efficiency, and has the best TD-to-INT ratio. He's also fifth in the B1G in rushing (top quarterback), and ranks third in total offense.
It's tough to argue with those results.
In addition to his gaudy stats, Miller has performed well under pressure. On those rare occasions when the Buckeyes were tied or trailing this season, Miller has taken his level of play to another level, completing 75% of his passes, while averaging 10.2 yards per completion.
That last sentence is what separates Miller from the rest of the pack. When the game is on the line, Urban Meyer knows that he can rely on his star signal-caller to march the team down the field for the winning score. After all, he's won his last 20 starts.
No one – not even Johnny Manziel or A.J. McCarron – can say that.
(ii) Which Big Ten coach is on the hot-seat, if any?
I'll give you a hint, they go to church a lot, dress rather modest, and you need the Kevorka to pick one up for a date. Nun, er none. Barring something obtuse like uncovered scandal e-mails or something far more nefarious (don't need to go more in-depth), expect all of the B1G head men to be back next season in the same posts. Then again, there was a time where the mere suggestion that we'd enter a B1G season without Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel this time that previous year would have been lunacy.
Like I said, though, everyone should stay. There will be talks about Bo Pelini, but his dramatic wins over Northwestern and Michigan likely secured second place in the Legends, and letting him go would probably be a tough sell, especially considering the other high-profile jobs possibly open across the country. Worst thing you can be in college football is branded as a program that just churns coaches in and out and lacks stability.
One guy I will bring up as a hot-seat candidate for the following year is Kevin Wilson at Indiana. Wilson has oddly been critical of a local media who has not been really all that critical of him, and the act eventually wears thin when you're not making bowl games. Wilson could offer the explanation of "culture changing" his first year when IU was an abysmal 1-11 with the win over an FCS program. The Hoosiers improved to 4-8 last year, and with the glut of home games and really, not a difficult schedule, a bowl game was expected. They'll probably end up winning five unless something miraculous happens like them beating Ohio State or Purdue beating them … each equally shocking.
That all means Wilson figures to be 10-26 in three years with some of the easiest out of conference schedule making you'll see this side of mid-90s Kansas State. Wilson also boasts an 0-10 record as a high school coach, which isn't relevant here unless you're adding it to the 10-26 for effect, but still is an odd statistic when it comes to evaluating running a program. Either way, Indiana is sinking money into the football program under AD Fred Glass' support like never before, and at some point, wins need to happen.
Although it wouldn't surprise me to see Tim Beckman or Kevin Wilson get the old heave-ho, Bo Pelini currently occupies the hottest seat in the Big Ten.
Truthfully, I'm surprised that Nebraska hasn't given Pelini the "it's not you, it's me" speech already. Sure, he's guided the team to a division title in four of his first five seasons, but the Huskers lost four games in every year during this span.
The 2013-14 campaign was equally disappointing. With Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah returning, many expected Pelini's squad to win the Legends division again this season. Unfortunately, that didn't happen as losses to Minnesota (first time since 1960) and Michigan State have eliminated the Cornhuskers from contention with two weeks remaining.
That's simply not going to cut it at Nebraska, whose fans got accustomed to winning conference titles and competing for the national championship year in and year out under Tom Osborne. Since the program hasn't captured a league crown since 1999, no one would blame them for making a leadership change.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time an NU coach got the axe following a 9-3 season.
Of course we all disagree here -- which is nothing new for the B1G Uglies. In today's world of college football, there's always someone on the hot-seat because someone's always losing. In the arms race of pigskin glory these days, you have to win faster than a tweet posts to social media. You basically get a free one-year pass for "culture change." After that though, progress had better be swift … and decisive. You could make a case for three guys really with Kevin Wilson of Indiana, Bo Pelini of Nebraska, and Tim Beckman of Illinois, but one stands out above the other here.
THE guy most unequivocally on the hot-seat is Indiana's Kevin Wilson.
Yeah, yeah Tim Beckman hasn't won a conference game yet, but he's just in year two and the Ron Zook project was such a disaster at the end that he'll get a bit of a free pass to turn it all around. He's likely not going anywhere. At least not this year.
The Bo Pelini situation is an interesting one, and it wouldn't be a total shocker if there was a new direction in Lincoln to take the program to the next level where many believe it belongs, but there's been enough of a turnaround this year to probably keep the yelling and scowls from Pelini still prevalent on the sideline.
That brings us to Kevin Wilson. This was supposed to be the year that the Hoosiers made that next step towards the upper division of the conference. The expectations going into this season clearly hinged on at least a bowl game ... and more. Just two games remaining however, and it now looks like Indiana will be staying home for the holidays. The offense has been explosive at most times, but the defense has been about as interested in stopping opposing teams as Obama is to creating real, live affordable health care.
The Hoosiers have sorely disappointed this year, and we've seen far more optimistic coaching situations result in a march to the unemployment line.
(iii) What's something Big Ten folks should be talking about, but aren't?
If there were a Rodney Dangerfield award in college football, Tim Bennett would win it hands down.
Unless you're an Indiana Hoosier fan, you probably just asked yourself "who is that?"
To be blunt, he's the best cover man in college football right now. Relatively unknown because he plays in an IU secondary that ranks 117th nationally against the pass, Bennett has frustrated opposing offensive-coordinators all season long. Sure, he only has one interception, but Bennett leads the nation in passes defensed, averaging two per game. His 20 pass break ups are more than 9 teams have recorded this season.
Unfortunately, this will go largely unnoticed because most people judge cornerbacks solely on the number of interceptions they record.
That's a shame. With his numbers, he deserves a lot more recognition than what he's received so far.
Quick, who is the best running back in the conference?
Did you mention a man-child toting the rock in Columbus by chance? Yeah, probably not. I really think people are missing the boat on Ohio State senior running back Carlos Hyde. A bit lost in the mix early on because of a three-game suspension, Hyde has burst onto the scene since becoming eligible and is eating up more chunks of real-estate than a hostile, corporate-takeover.
You won't find the 6-0, 242 lb senior on the conference statistical leaders, because he hasn't played enough games to be eligible as a statistical leader (yet). But if he were, Hyde might be considered the best running back in the part of the country where brats, beer, and cheese flow like milk and honey.
Don't believe me? Here's some stats for you that you have to dig and find on your own: Hyde is averaging 135.28 ypg -- a conference best. He also has 13 touchdowns, has yet to be tackled for a loss this season (which is almost unheard of), and has put the team on his back and carried them at times. All of this has been done in just seven games. That's right, Hyde is fourth in the conference in rushing yards with 947 yards, all while playing three fewer games than most. Extrapolate that average out, and you'd be looking at a beast with over 1,300 yards to date if he had played the full compliment of games.
Clearly there were some off-the-field mistakes made in the offseason that Hyde has paid penance for, but this year has been his coming-out party of sorts. With his blend of power, speed, vision, and heart, he is about ready to knock the door down as the first 1,000 yard rusher that Urban Meyer has had in his short, yet illustrious career. It's high-time some folks started taking notice.
And who said you can't run and Hyde?
From 1 to 3, the B1G is as good as if not the best conference in the nation. What? No, I don't eat paint chips. Nor do I huff nail polish remover. Find the bottle of Hennigan's. Half of it must be gone, right?
Hardly. For all the guff the B1G gets about allegedly not being "tough," consider the top three teams' records. They are a staggering 17-1 against the rest of the conference, and before you drop the "no depth" card on the tip of my tongue, do understand that last year, not a single SEC team in the bottom half of the conference scored a single win against the top half. You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose. Or your arguments in college football like that. That dog don't hunt here.
Furthermore, you start to look at the remainder of the country and do you really see a conference this weighted at the top three? Baylor looks like the class of the Big 12. Oklahoma State? Lost to woeful West Virginia. The Pac-12 has depth, but the top teams have losses and warts to go along with them. The ACC is Florida State, Clemson, and … a bag of Sour Patch Kids if you take out all of the red ones. The SEC? Alabama looks pretty good (understatement). So does Missouri. After that? Texas A&M is a sieve on defense. And South Carolina? They lost to lowly Tennessee.
You don't see those types of losses in the B1G's top three, and as such, the conference should be evaluated fairly. Which has absolutely zero chance of happening outside of this column.
Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, Bart @Bart_CFN, and Terry @TPJCollFootball