BIG TEN EAST DIVISION SEASON IN REVIEW 2018

 

 

 

My first post of the season was a look forward as I submitted my preseason predictions and comments. Now it’s time to take a look back as the results are in. I’ve listed the teams in reverse order of finish and included my preseason prediction. I was right about some of them and get to say “I told you so”, and was wrong about others and have to admit as much. 

 

 

 

BIG TEN EAST DIVISION

My predicted order of finish for this division was spot on, and my predicted conference records were mostly accurate as well. But I will say that as the season unfolded I was among those who thought Michigan was finally going to beat Ohio St. But Buckeyes HC Urban Meyer rarely loses the big games. Meyer’s retirement is a loss for this conference in terms of overall strength, but will open the door for other programs. Most likely Michigan.

 

 

My preseason prediction:

 

7)- Rutgers- (1-8) (4-8)

For me, adding Rutgers to the conference four seasons ago was a head-scratcher, both from a geographical and competitive standpoint. Can this program be competitive in the Big Ten? So far, the answer has been no as the Scarlet Knights have a 7-25 conference record thus far, with two of those wins coming against fellow head-scratcher Maryland. But, while New Jersey stretches far beyond the boundaries of a conference historically known to represent the Midwest, it does have a large enough population to draw significant talent from, and being a member of a power five conference should help. So, over time, and with some progressive results on the field, there is a good chance that Rutgers will eventually be a contender in the conference. A case could be made that a baby step was taken last season as the Scarlet Knights put together a nice mid-season run, winning three of four conference games. But it appeared as though the team was satisfied at that point and packed it in to close the season with three straight lopsided losses by a combined score of 116-13. This season’s edition returns a significant amount of starters, and there’s a freshman QB who comes in highly touted, so I don’t see Rutgers as taking a step backwards in terms of talent/progress, and believe they will win all of their nonconference games. But I do think the conference wins will drop off from last season. The Maryland game is on the road, and I’m calling for Rutgers to win one of the two home games against Indiana and Illinois, but otherwise, I don’t see any wins on a pretty tough remaining schedule.

 

How it turned out:

 

7)- Rutgers- (0-9) (1-11)

Well, Rutgers did worse than I predicted. And I didn’t predict good things. The Scarlet Knights started off as terrible, but actually improved some towards the end of the season and I was able to notice this and cash in on some large point spreads which Rutgers covered. I was 0-1 ATS betting against Rutgers early in the season but was 2-0 betting with Rutgers late in the season. One of the biggest problems this season, aside from a lack of overall talent, was at the QB position. Artur Sitkwoski has the arm to make the throws, and did in fact throw some very nice passes. But he threw to the wrong team way too many times. Yet HC Chris Ash stuck with Sitkowski up until the second to last game of the season when Sitkowski threw his most ridiculous interception of the season against Penn St., which finally landed Sitkowski on the bench. I think Ash took too long to pull the trigger on Sitkowski because there were several worthy nominations for “most ridiculous Sitkwoski interception” throughout the season. But the decision and consequential experience obtained could pay off, because as I said, Sitkowski has the arm. He just needs to improve on his decision making. As I said in my prediction, the answer so far would still have to be no when considering if Rutgers can be competitive in the Big Ten. At least in the win-loss column. On the field Rutgers closed the season with a good effort against upper tier programs Penn St. and Michigan St. But still, close but no cigar. Ash will be back next season and I think that’s a good decision. I don’t know that Ash is a great coach, but it’s hard to tell if he’s a bad one. Rutgers is still outclassed in a tough conference, so it’s a big ask to get this program turned around.

 

 

 

My preseason prediction:

 

6)- Indiana- (2-7) (5-7)

HC Tom Allen did OK in his debut last season I think, although the win-loss record wouldn’t indicate as much. I said in my post-season review that Indiana may have been the best last place team this conference has had in a long time as the Hoosiers were competitive in almost all of their games. They have a lot coming back on offense and QB Peyton Ramsey seems to have the heart of a winner. But they lose a lot from a defense that was pretty good by Indiana standards, which could be a problem, we’ll have to see. Allen’s forte is defense, so I have a feeling the D might not be as bad as it appears on paper, again, by Indiana standards. The Hoosiers have a good chance to win all three non-conference games, and I think they may turn in a couple of upset wins (Michigan St. and Penn St. perhaps), but I also don’t think they’ll be good enough to dodge a couple of disappointing losses (Rutgers and Minnesota perhaps). In the end I figure the Hoosiers to match last season’s record.

 

How it turned out:

 

6)- Indiana- (2-7) (5-7)

My predicted finish was spot on, although the Hoosiers didn’t get the upset wins I called for. HC Tom Allen’s second year was pretty much like his first. His team is worthy of a better record, but it’s tough to elbow your way up the ladder in this conference. I used the phrase “not quite ready for prime time” a few times this season when referring to Indiana. But they were ever so close to breaking through. Iowa handled ‘em pretty good, and Ohio St. and Michigan wore ‘em down in the second half, but really, the Hoosiers were right there in every game. QB Peyton Ramsey had a fine season as did RB Stevie Scott. Both return next season. And we got a glimpse of Freshman QB Michael Penix who was injured shortly after his debut. Penix may be even better than Ramsey. In fact, the Hoosiers have a lot coming back next season, including a fine group of receivers. Allen, for better or worse, can be a bit emotional at times. But that plays well at the college level, I think. And this is Indiana football, not basketball, so he isn’t working with a marquee program to sell to recruits. I’m guessing Allen wouldn’t call this season a success considering the win-loss columns, but I wouldn’t say he has anything to be ashamed of. I give him and this Indiana team a thumbs up and expect that they will eventually get that breakthrough win. I don’t see ‘em winning any titles in the near future, but I certainly don’t think they’re moving in the wrong direction.

 

 

 

My preseason prediction:

 

5)- Maryland- (4-5) (6-6)

Maryland returns some key offensive playmakers, most of the starting O-Line, and their choice of three QBs who all saw playing time last season. The defense, which was very poor last season, returns only four starters. The Terrapins were competitive at times last season, but the injury bug hit the QB position hard, leaving Maryland to break in a new one through most of the season, so it’s hard to tell if their record would have been better. The defense will have to get better if Maryland is to knock off any of the upper echelon conference teams on the schedule, which I don’t see them doing. And we’ll have to take a pulse on this team at times, as it appeared from the couch last season that this team gave up when the going got tuff. But Maryland has a handful of lower tier teams on the conference schedule, which I do see them winning.

 

How it turned out:

 

5)- Maryland- (3-6) (5-7)

I was correct in where Maryland placed in the standings, but a game off on their record. I didn’t think Maryland would beat Texas but I did think they’d beat Temple, so the nonconference part washed out. In conference I figured Maryland to beat Indiana, which they did not. And it cost me ATS as I bet on the Terrapins in that game. I bet on Maryland twice this season and lost both. This, of course, was a tumultuous season for Maryland. HC D.J. Durkin was suspended for most of the season and eventually was fired late in the season, which left Maryland without a HC for the entire season. And this hurt the Terrapins. Maryland had the talent to beat teams like Indiana and maybe win a couple of other games as well. Matt Canada filled in as acting HC the best he could, but the team was undisciplined at times and some of the game day coaching decisions were poor. Sometimes the talent level was enough to overcome the shortcomings, especially at home. The defense and the running game was very good when the Terrapins were hitting on all cylinders. But, as I said in my preseason prediction, this team needed to be hitting on all cylinders from the get-go, because it could be very bad when the going got tuff. Unlike last season, Maryland stayed healthy at the QB position for most of this season, but this didn’t translate into improvement. The passing game was weak, which cost the Terrapins some wins as well, I think. Maryland recently hired Mike Locksley to take over the HC duties. I’m not so sure about this. Locksley wasn’t very successful in his previous and only HC gig, which was short-lived and laced with controversy. But he’ll have an outstanding stable of RBs to work with next season, assuming they all return. Maryland hasn’t been short on talent the last couple of seasons, they’ve just needed some consistency and discipline.

 

 

 

My preseason prediction:

 

4)- Michigan St.- (5-4) (8-4)

Most of the publications I’ve read are expecting big things from the Spartans. A couple of ‘em have them top 15 in their pre-season national rankings.  Mark Dantonio is an excellent coach, and the Spartans have 18 starters returning from a team that finished with ten wins last season and posted a 7-2 conference record. But let’s not get carried away here. A closer look reveals that last season’s team wasn’t quite as dominant as the win-loss record would indicate. A win is a win, and I certainly respect that, so you can’t dismiss the mental toughness, but Sparty struggled to get some of those wins against lower tier teams (2 conference win Maryland, Minnesota, Indiana). And the top ranked defense that everyone is glowing about returning nine starters was almost invisible against Ohio St. as the Buckeyes simply ran the ball right through the middle en route to a 48-3 walloping. And there’s also the 20 point loss to Notre Dame. The marquis win was against Penn St., but personally I feel this was the result of being in the right place on the Nittany Lions schedule. Penn St. was coming off of the biggest and most anticipated conference game of the year against Ohio St. the week prior. College kids (even the pros sometimes) tend to let down after such a game (Ohio St. got thumped at Iowa on the same Saturday). The win at Michigan was nice, but Michigan was suffering QB issues and the game was partially played, and then stopped for a significant amount of time, and then resumed in a torrential downpour. And there’s also much ado about QB Brian Lewerke. The kid played lights out against Penn St.—good Brian, but I remember bad Brian showing up quite often. But again, you can’t dismiss getting the “W” under any circumstances so this team has proven to have the resolve to “get-er-done” in a conference that was top to bottom the strongest it’s been in a long while, and an argument could be made that the poor showing against Ohio St. was due to the aforementioned letdown that college kids often suffer as the Spartans were coming off their big win against Penn St. And Dantonio is one of the best in the conference, overshadowed by a couple of high profile coaches in the conference who grab most of the headlines. So while I agree that Michigan St. will be good, I’m not buying the idea that they’ll improve upon or even match last season’s win total.

 

How it turned out:

 

4)- Michigan St.- (5-4) (7-5)

Ok, this one easily lands in the “I told you so” category. While most were predicting big things from Michigan St., I suggested that the Spartans ain’t all that. I got the conference record and place in the standings correct, but didn’t figure Michigan St. to lose to Arizona St. in nonconference play. I wasn’t completely accurate on which teams I figured Michigan St. to lose to either but the net result turned out the same. I also can’t say had my finger firmly on the pulse of this team as I was 0-1 ATS betting with Michigan St. and 1-1 betting against the Spartans. The problem with this team was on the offensive side of the ball. The defense was outstanding, maybe the best in the conference behind Michigan. Injuries were a significant part of the shortcomings on offense. Most of the WRs were injured at some point in the season and starting QB Brian Lewerke suffered a mid-season shoulder injury that affected his play to the point where he had to sit on the sidelines to try to heal. He never did see significant action in the latter part of the season and his play was spotty leading up to the injury anyway. His backup, Rocky Lombardi performed well in his first start, but struggled after that. Highly regarded RB L.J. Scott was injured early in the season and was listed as questionable for the next few games. HC Mark Dantonio kept saying it was a game day decision as to whether Scott would play, and also said that it was Scott’s decision on when he felt ready. Scott never felt ready all season. So the running game suffered as well. In fact, this offense got worse as the season progressed and finished with the Spartans only mustering 16 points in their last two games against a pair of lower tier defenses. But the season wasn’t a total failure. Michigan St. was able to post a nice wins against Penn St. and the defense shut down a good Purdue offense which led to another nice win. The Nebraska loss was ugly, especially when the defense did its part against a blossoming Nebraska offense. But there’s no shame in the rest of the conference losses. Michigan St. should have a lot returning on offense next season, Lewerke is a junior and Scott ended up redshirting this season. Felton Davis will be missed but most of the WR receivers are underclassmen. We’ll have to see what happens with the defense. That side of the ball has some players that may enter the draft.

 

 

 

My preseason prediction:

 

3)- Penn St.- (6-3) (9-3)

Penn St. loses a lot of starters from last season’s defense and some key position players on offense. But QB Trace McSorley returns as who I consider the best QB in the conference. McSorley has that “it” factor… the type of QB who can win some games for his team. And the O-Line is highly regarded this season so I think the Nittany Lions should be fine on offense, and most reports indicate that this is a strong recruiting class replacing the departed starters on defense, so I don’t see much of a drop off for a Penn St. program who has been on the rise under HC James Franklin’s regime. But the schedule gets tough right in the middle of the season with a six game stretch against five of the best teams in the conference sandwiched around a road game at lower-tier Indiana. I don’t think the Nittany Lions are good enough to win all six, and I’m actually calling for them to lose to Indiana, but I figure them to come out of the stretch with some nice wins as well.

 

How it turned out:

 

3)- Penn St.- (6-3) (9-3)

My predicted place and win-loss record was spot on, although Penn St. lost to different teams than I figured. Penn St. did not lose to Indiana and only came out with three wins of the tough six game stretch I mentioned in my prediction write-up. I was 1-2 ATS this season in games involving Penn St. All three games I bet against Penn St. This was a good Penn St. team, although I’d say it was a drop off from last season. The offense was good, but McSorley was pretty much the whole show. A little more help around McSorley might’ve won a couple of more games. As it is now, Penn St. is still a bit short of reaching the “elite” category that HC James Franklin refers to. Back to back losses against Ohio St. and Michigan St. in the early part of the season put Penn St. on the outside looking in, and a blowout loss against Michigan showed where the Nittany Lions stand. If not elite, I still expect Penn St. will be upper tier in this conference in future seasons, although next season may be a challenge as McSorley will be lost to graduation.

 

 

 

My preseason prediction:

 

2)- Michigan- (7-2) (10-2)

The Wolverines play a tough schedule this season, so my prediction here may look a bit high compared to other publications. There are also some suggestions floating around that HC Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat, due to his teams’ record against rivals Michigan St. and Ohio St. I’d be surprised if those suggestions are coming from the Michigan athletic department. I think it’d be crazy to get rid of Harbaugh, and it’s (partially?) because of his coaching abilities that I see Michigan once again posting a good record. The offense has struggled recently, mostly due to poor QB play, which is surprising under Harbaugh. Harbaugh has once again turned to a transfer and this one comes with high accolades. But even if the transfer doesn’t work out, I thought Brandon Peters showed promise before he got hurt last season. The line has some questionable spots but some good RBs return. The defense should be outstanding as it returns eight starters from a defense that was outstanding last season. Since Harbaugh took over, Michigan hasn’t been as far from “upper echelon” status as some publications suggest. They’re certainly closer to being a legitimate contender than they’ve been in the last 10 years. If Harbaugh can find a superstar QB, and some say this transfer could be just that, the Wolves are going to pop through. The competition is thick in the Big Ten right now, and once again I figure Michigan to lose to their aforementioned rivals, but I’ve got them otherwise unblemished.

 

How it turned out:

 

2)- Michigan- (8-1) (10-2)

I got the overall record right, and also correctly predicted the second place finish, but I figured Michigan to beat Notre Dame and lose to Michigan St., which did not happen. I correctly predicted a loss to Ohio St. I was 1-0 ATS betting with Michigan this season, and 1-1 betting against the Wolves. I get maybe a bit of an “I told you so” here. Many (not all) were predicting less from Michigan and was even suggesting HC Jim Harbaugh should or would be dumped after this season. As it turns out, there’s no shame in losing to Notre Dame this season. And rarely is it shameful to lose to Ohio St. But for many, shameful it is to lose to Ohio St. and the Harbaugh haters are out in full force. I’m not a Harbaugh hater, not by a long shot, but I will say the loss to Ohio St. was surprising. Not so surprising Michigan lost, but it was surprising how badly they were beaten. As I said in my post game write up; Michigan was outplayed, outcoached, outeverythinged, which, unfortunately, kinda wipes out an otherwise great season. It seems strange to call a 10-2 season a disappointment, but that’s kind of the feeling you get when you think about the way this season played out. Of course, with the whole rivalry thing, the pinnacle is to beat Ohio St. and this appeared to be season it would happen. Ohio St. was winning, but was winning ugly, barely scraping past subpar teams and getting blown out by the likes of Purdue. Michigan, on the other hand, was steamrolling its way through some of the marquee teams in the conference. Michigan actually came into the game as a favorite AT Ohio St. I gotta give credit/props to Ohio St. HC Urban Meyer. The man is the best in big games. It’s kind of bittersweet for Michigan that Meyer is retiring. Sweet that it will open the door for Michigan (and other conference teams), and bitter that they won’t have another crack at Meyer. Throw out the Ohio St. game and this truly was an outstanding season. Michigan faced a challenging schedule and dominated some of the upper echelon programs in the conference. Some of the players got a little cocky at times, but nothing too insulting. Looking forward, I expect Michigan will lose a lot of players to the draft, but Harbaugh has been recruiting well and this is Michigan, so I expect they’ll re-load. But it will be nearly impossible to match this season’s defensive lineup. And as I said, with Meyer out of Ohio St., the door is wide open.

 

 

 

My preseason prediction:

 

1)- Ohio St.- (8-1) (10-2)

HC Urban Meyer has established a well-oiled machine at Ohio St., replacing one good player for another. The Buckeyes lose their starting QB, which is always a challenge in college football, but they return enough talent from last season’s conference championship team to take their usual spot as the team to beat this season. I could see a few games on the schedule that the Buckeyes could lose, but under the Meyer era, Ohio St. seems to find a way to win the close ones. Both Penn St. and Michigan had Ohio St. on the ropes last season, yet the Buckeyes managed to escape with a win. So, for that reason, I have to give the Buckeyes respect, and figure them to win their division with only one loss, perhaps at Penn St. I’m thinking. EDITORS NOTE: I wrote this before all the turmoil surrounding Meyer and the program surfaced, so I’ve since added a non-conference loss to my prediction. And there might be another conference loss or two. Meyer will still be the coach, but the distraction that has occurred already is bound to have negative effects on this team. And I don’t think it’s over. I have a feeling the media will continue to hound Meyer throughout the season.

 

How it turned out:

 

1)- Ohio St.- (8-1) (11-1)

My prediction was correct although it really can’t be considered going out on a limb when predicting Ohio St. to finish first when Meyer is at the helm. Of course, that’s changed after this season so figuring next season’s prediction will be interesting. The early season turmoil I mentioned in my editor’s note didn’t seem to linger as much as I thought it would, although my guess is that it played a big part in Meyer’s decision to retire. It speaks to the standards Meyer has established when a team that wins the conference championship with only one loss seemed to play below expectations on several occasions. But that was the case through most of the season as the Buckeyes struggled- again by Ohio St. standards, against lower tier teams and was flat out beat down at Purdue in their only loss. I didn’t have any luck ATS with the Buckeyes. I was 0-1 betting with the Buckeyes, and 0-1 betting against. The defense appeared to be the biggest problem, most notably in the loss to Purdue and in a narrow escape against Maryland when the Buckeyes gave up 51 points and turned in one of the worst defensive performances I’ve seen all season from any team. But with Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes always find a way. Somehow, Ohio St. won the Maryland game which in itself was an accomplishment considering the defensive performance. But the season finale against rival and conference undefeated Michigan was next on the schedule. Michigan featured the best defense in the conference and with the current state of Ohio St.’s defense, this appeared to be the year Michigan would win. But somehow, in one short week Meyer transformed the Buckeyes defense into a dominant force that completely shut down Michigan and his offense flat out shredded the vaunted Michigan defense en route to a route. Meyer’s retirement will have a significant and immediate impact on the program, I think. Many seem to think it will be business as usual since it’s Ohio St. (some even go so far as to suggest the Buckeyes were better off without Meyer during his four game suspension), but I’m reminded of the Luke Fickell era following former HC Jim Tressel’s departure. I think we’ll see something similar in future seasons. Don’t get me wrong, Ohio St. will still have the talent and will still be among the best in the conference, but there’s no replacing an Urban Meyer. The man was the best among active coaches with maybe the exception of Nick Saban.

 

 

 

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