The second full week of fall camp is here for Nebraska and the rest of the teams in the Big Ten. Like last week, we're going to take a quick cruise through the conference for news updates you might have missed while watching and rewatching those short practice clips the Huskers put out.
Why? Because knowing is half the battle.
We've got a lot of QB battles happening around the Big Ten, some East Division drama and more, but we'll start right here at home.
NEBRASKA: If you missed it at the end of last week, Bill Connelly wrote for ESPN about Year 2 coaches who are poised to make THE LEAP. It's something of an eliminator-style rundown of all the Year 2 coaches which winnows a list of 20 down to seven leap candidates.
Scott Frost is, of course, on that list, but this jumped out at me more than the breakdown of Nebraska's potential:
There is a broader statistical angle to this effect, as well: If a head coach is going to see a leap, it's probably going to happen pretty quickly after his hire. Over the past 10 seasons, 23 teams have seen their S&P+ rating improve by 18 points per game in a single season. Eighteen of those teams were led by a head coach in either his first, second or third season at the helm. And among that range, the second year is the most likely chance at improvement.
In a coach's first year, his team's average change in S&P+ rating is minus-1.03, with a minus-0.12 average change in win total. By Year 2, the average change is plus-2.59 (plus-0.87 win total). In Year 3, the average change in S&P+ rating is plus-1.44 (plus-0.26 win total).
Over those 10 years, 70% of second-year coaches enjoyed a win total at or above that of their first year and 63% saw their S&P+ rating improve (46% by at least three adjusted points per game, 17% by at least 10).
We sort of know that intuitively––or feel it at least––but it's always good to put some numbers to it. I looked back at the points-per-play data I compiled for this story just to see how it compared. I was looking at just the last five years of college football (2014–18), but on average Year 1 coaches’ first team at a new school had their points per play differential drop by .011. Year 2 coaches, on average, improved by .029.
Based on an average of 70 plays per game, you're looking at 0.77 points per game worse in Year 1 and then 2.03 points per game better in Year 2. And, again, Nebraska didn't go backwards in Frost's first season.
Check out the story for the full breakdown of all the leap candidates.
Now on to the drama . . .
MARYLAND/MICHIGAN: Go ahead and mark it if you had "coaches at Michigan and Maryland squabble in August" on your fall camp bingo sheet. At issue here is a shared history.
Michigan's new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was Alabama's wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator last year. New Maryland head coach, Mike Locksley, held the OC title for the Tide in 2018.
Saying he had a “tremendous amount of respect” for Locksley, Gattis told reporters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last week, “Mike Locksley can say I watched him call every play, but ask him where the game plans usually came from. So I’m fine with that. He did call every play, and I’ve got a notebook upstairs with all the game plans written down in them.”
After Saturday's scrimmage Locksley offered his rejoinder:
“I don’t care to comment on it, but I am, because I’d like to put this to bed,” Locksley said. "Here’s what I say. I’ve been a first-time play-caller before. Back in 2005 [at Illinois] was the first time I had a chance to call plays, so I know the anxiety that comes along with it. Josh knows the truth, that’s really important to understand. I also know there’s a difference between suggestions and decisions.
“He’ll have an opportunity to make decisions now. He’s got a job to do, I’ve got a job to do here. I want to talk about my coordinator [Scottie Montgomery], the guys I have in my program, which I feel really good about. … I’m sure that notebook he has upstairs has a lot of suggestions in them. Hopefully he’ll utilize them in the right way and make good decisions like I did for Alabama.”
Michigan visits Maryland on Nov. 2. The Wolverines are probably going to win by a lot.
Oh, and Locksley added former Florida and Illinois head coach Ron Zook as an analyst last week.
On to the many QB battles.
ILLINOIS: Michigan transfer Brandon Peters took the first-team reps at quarterback for Illinois on Saturday. "“Once you’re more than a week into camp, things are starting to go into place a little bit about who starts, who possibly might start, and of course, who we need to play," said Love Smith.
OHIO STATE: Ryan Day and the Buckeyes are still playing a quarterback shell game. "Nobody went out there and won the job for sure," Day said after Saturday's scrimmage, one reportedly won by the defense. I'll say this, it's a problem if Justin Fields doesn't win that job. I'm sure he will. I'm sure this is all a little bit of kayfabe. I'm sure Day has his reasons.
NORTHWESTERN: Pat Fitzgerald is also playing this game with his transfer former 5-star quarterback. Sure he has his reasons, too.
WISCONSIN: It looks like the Badgers are going to go with the experienced option at quarterback. Jack Coan has reportedly been taking the bulk of the reps and blue-chip freshman Graham Mertz is battling for the second spot.
PURDUE: Not a huge surprise here given the returning-starter split––three on offense, nine on defense––but the Boilermakers' defense is ahead of the offense at this point. Keep an eye on that Purdue offensive line. It's generally not a great sign when the head coach says, "I do not love our lineup right now," when asked specifically about that group.
SOUTH ALABAMA: This more just a piece of trivia, but maybe it will come in handy at the season-opening tailgate: South Alabama wide receiver Davyn Flenord is the son of former NBA All-Star (yep, look it up) Gerald Wallace.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska has a potential Death Lineup? Yep, Nebraska has a potential Death Lineup. That and more in Derek Peterson’s weekly column (now on a new day!).
- We know the leaders for playing time at outside linebacker, but there’s a group of young guys who are impressing early.
- Good piece from Greg Smith as he looks at which newcomers saw their stock rise the most during the first week of fall camp. (Premium)
- It’s not an ideal kickoff time for this, but Nebraska’s opener against South Alabama could have some big official visitors anyway.
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.