Maybe you heard, but the Big Ten is dead to the playoff committee after last week. At least that was the immediate reaction to a shocker in Iowa City and a fistfight of a football game in East Lansing that didn’t go Penn State’s way. Neither of those results helped the Big Ten’s chances of landing a team in the playoff, but I wouldn’t count out undefeated Wisconsin just yet.
The Badgers still have to beat Iowa and Michigan then whichever team comes out of the East in the conference title game. Any Power 5 team at 13-0 is going to at least be in the discussion for the final four. Wisconsin may not have the strongest argument thanks to its schedule, but a lot can happen around the Badgers in a month.
The Big Ten’s playoff chances aren’t dead, they’re maybe just in critical condition. Here’s a closer look at how they got that way:
Wisconsin 45 Indiana 17: Oh, hey, Indiana played a good team tough for a while and then lost by four scores. In week one, the Hoosiers led Ohio State with 5 minutes left in the third quarter only to lose 49-21. In this one Indiana went up 10-0 early and only trailed 24-17 at the start of the fourth quarter. And then the Badgers put up three fourth-quarter touchdowns. That’s probably an accurate final margin here as Wisconsin dominated all of the categories that matter, including an average starting field position of its own 44-yard line, 20 yards better than the Hoosiers’ average.
Michigan State 27 Penn State 24: The Nittany Lions were up 14-7 in this one when the weather delay hit. When that delay stretched to the length of “Gone with the Wind,” you knew it wasn’t a great spot for Penn State. That said the box score looks like that of a three-point game. Penn State had wins in yards per play, scoring opportunities and success rate. Michigan State won third down and the field-position and turnover battles. The Spartans have a chance to take control of the East Division this week with a win at Ohio State, just the way everyone drew it up in the offseason.
Iowa 55 Ohio State 24: We’ve seen Iowa do all the little things well, force some turnovers, play field position and knock off conference heavyweights before. This wasn’t that. Ohio State managed an average number of yards per play (which is admittedly below average for this offense) and was the more efficient offense overall. So what’s Iowa do? It wins the explosive-play battle and forces four interceptions. The turnover numbers were a little lucky in Iowa’s favor, but the Hawkeyes cashed in those opportunities and beat the Buckeyes in a way almost nobody beats the Buckeyes. This Saturday’s Iowa-Wisconsin game just got a lot more interesting.
Rutgers 31 Maryland 24: Don’t look now but Rutgers is 3-3 in Big Ten play. This was another pretty “straight up result.” The Scarlet Knights did what a team has to do against Maryland — corral the big plays — and dominated in the run game, outrushing the Terrapins 239-167. Rutgers managed the touchdown win with a little bit of bad turnover luck, too. Coach Chris Ash might be making some gains in Piscataway.
Michigan 33 Minnesota 10: First downs in this game were nearly equal (Minnesota 13, Michigan 14), so how’d this end up 33-10? The Gophers only managed 13 first downs because they averaged 2.9 yards per play. The Wolverines only managed 14 first downs because they were going up and down the field too easily and averaging 8.5 yards per play. Per Football Study Hall, that was the largest YPP margin of the weekend. Michigan’s last month of the season is going to be interesting. It is still technically alive in the division race, but needs a lot of help. That said, it can still prove a few things with Wisconsin and Ohio State still on the schedule.
As the Carousel Spins
If you’re keeping an eye on all of the latest coaching rumors, here’s some good grist for the mill from Steven Godfrey of SB Nation. (Note: Godfrey is pretty plugged in to the coaching ranks, so I tend put a little more weight behind the info he publishes.)
Per Godfrey’s report, UCF’s Scott Frost and Oregon’s Willie Taggart are the top options at Florida. A week ago, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen was probably the favorite. Things change quickly, but my read is that the Gators are looking for a bigger splash for its fans than the guy who clearly would come and has the easy connections that made him a logical candidate in the first place.
This nugget also jumped out at me:
Florida is unofficially communicating with potential candidates about possibly retaining particular staff members for recruiting reasons, including defensive coordinator and current interim head coach Randy Shannon.
That’s interesting as it pertains to Frost. He seems to be particularly fond of his current defensive coordinator Erik Chinander A former Iowa linebacker, Chinander was the tight ends coach at Northern Iowa when Frost arrived in 2007 to be the linebackers coach and eventually the co-defensive coordinator. The pair spent two seasons together there before Frost went to Oregon in 2009. Chinander joined him in Eugene a year later as a GA, joined Chip Kelly in Philadelphia in 2013 for a season, then returned to Oregon as the linebackers coach in 2014. When Frost took the UCF job he made Chinander his defensive coordinator. Point is those two have spent nine of the past 11 seasons together and that doesn’t happen by accident.
I don’t think Frost is maintaining Randy Shannon if he goes there. I also don’t think Florida would be so committed to that idea that it would potentially miss out on one of its top candidates, but it’s interesting that the school’s brass reportedly started there. Stack an early-signing period on top of hire-and-fire season and we're in a new world now.
The Grab Bag
- Minnesota opened as about a 2-point favorite over Nebraska. The Huskers have opened as an underdog in five consecutive games now.
- Auburn could certainly help the Big Ten with a couple of big wins over the next three weeks.
- Just when you think all of the good headlines have been written and we can only regurgitate the same tired puns, the Cedar Rapids Gazette provides this beauty.
- ICYMI: The Hail Varsity staff offers some final takeaways from the Northwestern game.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.