Saturday, September 13, 2014

Game 3: Penn State

This the moment Rutgers fans have been waiting for for years. The Scarlet Knights will make their Big 10 debut against the hated Penn State Nittany Lions in prime time, on national TV. The crowd will be rocking.

Penn Stae has a tough run defense, but Rutgers still has to ride Paul James. He's their best player. I would expect Tyler Kroft to get a lot of opportunites tonight as well against the Lions zone coverages.

On defense, Rutgers has to keep Penn State one dimensional. Get a pass rush from the front four and stop the run with seven. Force Hackenburg to make mistakes. Their line is inexperienced and crowd noise will be a factor.

Rutgers 34 Penn State 31

Rutgers Small Defensive Line Could Work in the Big 10

One of the narratives both locally and nationally heading into the Pinstripe Bowl was that playing Note Dame would be a "Big 10 preview" for Rutgers. While the Fighting Irish are not Big 10 members themselves, they play a very similar style of football as most teams in the conference, relying on their big offensive and defensive lines. Add in the fact that they are from the midwest, play a bunch of Big 10 teams every year and have a tendency to lose BCS games, you can see how this comparison works.

While Rutgers stayed competitive through out the contest against Notre Dame, they were some red flags raised about how they would hold up in the Big 10 next year. The Fighting Irish ran ravage over the Scarlet Knights defense in the second half behind future first round draft pick Zach Martin (who actually wrecked the 49ers too last Sunday) and the power run game. The easy conclusion to draw from that is Rutgers can not rely on small, speedy defensive lineman like they have in the past in the Big 10 moving forward. I do not agree with that assessment at all.

The reason Rutgers struggled to defend the run in the second half in that game in the Bronx was a matter of two things: lack of depth and their own inability to pick up first downs on offense to give the defense a breather. The depth concern was mostly due to a large number of injuries up front suffered through out the season, and as good as Dave Milewski is, he can not be a defensive tackle under any circumstance like he was in this game. He is just to small for that. The offense issues are well documented, but there is hope that they will improve there and that has nothing to do with the defense.

People focus too much on the negatives of having a small defensive line against bigger offensive lines, and ignore the positives. Rutgers' defensive lines are not only smaller, but a lot quicker than those massive offensive lines too. The Scarlet Knights have played a few teams over the years who adopt this big lineman philosophy and they have generally had a lot of success. The most notable example is obviously Eric Foster giving Louisville's big line a bunch of problems in that 2006 epic with his quickness, and they have consistently held the Cardinals' running game in check despite the size disadvantage over the years. They've also played well against Arkansas' big offensive lines the last two years. Remember that last year's Razorback staff had just migrated from Wisconsin of the Big 10 and had a very Big 10 mentality. Quickness can be just as dangerous, if not more so than size and power.

Sometimes you can have success when you change the status quo philosophically in a new conference. You don't have to go back that far, just look at Texas A&M in 2012. The Aggies came to the SEC from the Big 12 with their high tempo, wide open second generation air raid attack and tore the conference up, inducing the big bully on the block Alabama in Tuscaloosa. They of course had a ton of talent on the offensive line and at receiver and a Heisman winner at quarterback, but Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury's scheme played just as big a part in their success. They even caused Nick Saban to publicly complain about up tempo offenses. Being at the other end of the philosophical spectrum from most of the teams in your conference seems scary in theory, but those other teams are often illequipped and maybe don't know how to handle your new and different style.

To make having an undersized defensive line work, you need great players, just like any other scheme in the history of football. Darius Hamilton was a five star recruit playing the three technique in high school, and Rutgers' scheme allowed him to have great freshman and sophomore years inside, when most people projected him at end. Defensive end Kemoko Turay is also considered undersized by normal standards, but he can be a dangerous speed rusher thanks to the Scarlet Knights embracing speed over size. Preferring a different type of player can work to your advantage in recruiting, since you are maybe not going head to head with the Michigans and Ohio States fort he top players you identify for your scheme.

Defensive line depth is important for everyone, but it's even more so when you are small up front. Since Rutgers is going to be a lot smaller and faster, they are going to need to sub liberally to stay fresh and continue to use their speed and quickness to their advantage thorough out the game. They will at minimum have to roll eight deep on the front four, and while they have eight quality lineman now, injuries could derail that. Recruiting at this position will be very important moving forward because of this. It also wouldn't hurt if they stopped moving every defensive lineman over 270 to guard.

Personally, I love Rutgers having small quick defensive lines. Being fast and attacking is the defensive identity Rutgers has had since Greg Schiano took over, and they have had a ton of success doing it over the years. You don't change who you are and what has made you successful just to fit into your new league. It's ok to be different sometimes, and I think Rutgers defensive line will perform well in Big 10 play, beginning tomorrow.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Opponent Preview: Penn State

"College football is at it's best when it's regional," you have no doubt heard a million times. Penn State is one of Rutgers' closest neighbors, and with any hope, will become one of their biggest rivals. Both fan bases seem to hate each other, both programs fight over many of the same recruits, and both teams appear to be pretty equal talent wise at the moment, with a lot of strengths and a few fatal flaws. A lot of ingredients for a rivalry are there, they just need to a bunch of competitive games against one another in order for it to be one.

The Scarlet Knights and Nittany Lions have played each other 24 times previously, and the series is not been pretty for Rutgers. They are just 2-22 all time against that team out west (the wins came in 1918 and 1988), but that's ancient history now. The teams last met in 1995 when the oldest players on both teams were just three years old. But Rutgers is going to have to win some games head to head in order to make this an actual rivalry.

The Lions So Far
Penn State is off to a 2-0 start with wins over UCF and Akron. They beat the Golden Knights 26-24 on a last second field goal in their season opener in Dublin, Ireland and they beat the Zips 21-3 in their home opener last week. They also received a boot off the field when their NCAA sanctioned post season ban lifted this week, making them eligible for a bowl game and the Big 10 Championship Game this year.

First year head coach James Franklin is off to a 2-0 start in Happy Valley after leading a major turn around at his previous job at Vanderbilt. The East Stroudsburg, PA native lead the Commodores to 24-15 record and three bowl games in his three seasons in Nashville, finishing ranked twice and as you may have noticed, they are in pretty bad shape with out him. Franklin's background is on the offensive side of the ball, and he has NFL experience and was the offensive coordinator at Maryland under Rutgers offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen at Maryland.

Franklin has of course also been a pain in the ass for Rutgers on the recruiting trail, and he has thus far led up to his promise to dominate the region. At least off the field. I've seen a lot of people refer to Franklin as an elite coach in the same breath as Urban Meyer, but I don't think he is in the class yet, especially since Meyer has two national championships under his belt. Franklin may very well be on his way to being at that level, but he has more to prove it.

Offensive coordinator John Donovan followed Franklin from Vandy to State College, and he also coached under Friedgen at Maryland. Donovan and Franklin run a pro style offense for the most part, spending most of their time under center in traditional one and two back sets, but the Lions line up in shot gun quite a bit as well. Against Akron, Penn State's run game consisted mostly of man blocking, running mostly power and counter type plays with a few draws sprinkled in. Passing wise, they use play action often, utilizing a lot of pro style pass concepts (the levels concepts seemed to be their favorite) and keep defenses honest with bubble screens. They ran a number of packaged plays where the quarterback decides whether to give inside to the running back on an inside zone or to the receiver outside on the bubble too. And you have to play disciplined against them because they will break out a reverse or a half back pass against you.

The focal point of the Nittany Lions' offense is undoubtedly quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg came to Penn State last year as a five star recruit and became the starter immediately. Under the tutelage of Bill O'Brien, he threw 20 TDs and 10 INTs while averaging 7.5 yards a pass and completing 59%  of his passes. Not bad for a true freshman. There aren't many quarterbacks in the country who have a better skill set, as he has a very strong arm, tremendous accuracy and great footwork and feel inside the pocket. He has to shoulder a heavy load this year and he knows it, running for his life quite often and forcing passes to well covered receivers. He makes big plays and has improved in year two, but he will turn the ball over.

Penn State's offensive line has been terrible in their first two games, to put it kindly. They generate absolutely no push in the run game (2.76 yards per attempt) and Hackensberg either has to move up in the pocket or run for his life every time he drops back. This is a very inexperienced group, as only left tackle Donovan Smith returns from last year's line, and they are missing starting left guard Miles Diffenbach who is out with a knee injury. Their line also features two starters from New Jersey (left guard Brandon Mahon and center Angelo Mangiro). This game against Rutgers will be the first true college road experience four of the five starters in this group have, the crowd noise could cause a lot of communication and snap count problems for them, so that's just another thing working against them.

At running back, Big Time Football Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and Zach Zwinak share time. Zwinak is the power guy who will run up the middle, while Lynch and Belton are speedy backs who run mostly outside. Belton is a major threat in the passing game as well. At tight end, Penn State is with out former five star recruit Andrew Breneman, but Jesse James has stepped in nicely for him, recording two touchdown receptions in their first two games. Penn State lost arguably the best reciver they've ever had Allen Robinson to the NFL, but DaeSeasn Hamilton and Geno Lewis both have 14+ receptions and over 200 yards through two games this year. It's worth noting they both had more trouble getting open when they were pressed at the line.

Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop also came over from Vanderbilt to Penn State with James Franklin. Shoop's defense aligns in a 4-3 front with two deep safeties, and he loves to bring the blitz. The Nittany Lions play mostly zone coverages with the two deep safeties, but they don't just sit in cover two, they mix it up quite a bit with some quarters coverage and cover 3 and cover 1 rober. The defensive front stunts a lot in passing situations, and they bring all kind of linebackers up the middle on blitzes on all downs.

Penn State is able to play with two deep safeties at all times because their front seven is very stout. Their defense ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense through two weeks, led by senior middle linebacker Mike Hull, who has 22 tackles this year after recording 78 a year ago. Hull is flanked by two relatively inexperienced outside linebackers, including Jersey native Brandon Bell. On the defensive line, Austin Johnson is a big space eater inside and his partner inside Anthony Zettel is a very quick three technique who has two sacks so far this year.

After struggling somewhat last season against the pass, Penn State has been in the middle of the pack nationally in terms of pass efficiency defense through two games. They have a lot of experience returning in their back four, with two seniors and two juniors starting. This is one of the biggest secondaries you will see, as all four starters are over 6'0'' and close to 200 lbs. It's worth noting that UCF had a lot more success passing in the second half after they made a change at quarterback.

Penn State has a star quarterback in Christian Hackberg and some dangerous passing weapons, but they can not run the ball and their poor offensive line play is something that can expose this unit. Make them one dimensional and force Hackenberg into some mistakes and you have a chance. Their defense is tough against the run, and are nasty with the blitzes, but they can be beat through the air. James Franklin is a very good coach, and this teams has some really strong areas to go along with their fatal flaws. This is a good team,but they are by no means unbeatable.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kiy Hester Transfers to Rutgers

Freshman safety Kiy Hester has transferred from Miami (FL) to Rutgers, the school announced yesterday. Hester, who attended DePaul Catholic in Wayne, NJ, originally committed to Rutgers last summer, but he chose to attend school elsewhere after his offer from the Knights was in jeopardy when he informed the coaching staff he intended to take official visits to other schools. He eventually picked Miami and was with the team all summer, but he felt he needed to move closer to home to help his mother who is dealing with some health issues.

Hester will sit out this season and have four years of eligibility beginning next season. The Hurricanes initially blocked Hester's release to Rutgers, since they play each other in 2018, but they eventually relented.

Hester is a huge addition for Rutgers. He was a blue chip 4 star recruit with offers from basically everywhere in the Big 10, and as you may have heard, defensive back is a pretty big problem for the Scarlet Knights both in the near and long term. Hester is a well built 6'0'' 205 and capable of playing either free or strong safety. He is a very physical player who delivered some bone rattling hits in high school, and he also posses tremendous range and ball skills in coverage (he played some receiver in high school, which helped him in this regard). I would expect him to compete for a starting job as soon as he is eligible next season. Here's some video.

Hester also is close with a number of top high school prospects in New Jersey, and that certainly won't hurt recruiting moving forward. He is supposedly good friends with Kareem Walker, the #1 2016 recruit in the country according to 247, who he played with at DePaul last year. So that's cool.

Adding Hester is a huge coup for Kyle Flood. He is a potential impact player at a position of need in the near and long term, and he will help with future recruiting classes. Hester wanted to be a Scarlet Knight anyway, and only wasn't on a matter of principal that he wasn't, but things worked out in the end. Hopefully his mom gets healthy.

Kyle Flood Receives Extension

Rutgers Director of Athletics (DOA) Julie Hermann has extended head football coach Kyle Flood's contract through the 2018 season, the school announced today. Flood's deal was set to expire after the 2016 season, and he will receive a slight raise and more money to spend on assistant coaches as part of this deal. His buy out will also increase from $700K to $1.4 million.

The timing of this is very curious, as it was widely reported that Hermann tried to fire Flood after last season, but could not raise the funds necessary to pay his buy out. I'm not sure how a 2-0 start with one of the wins coming against an FCS team changes anything, but then again Hermann is not the right person to lead Rutgers' athletics department and we already knew that. At minimum, extension talks should have waited until after this season. There has also been some speculation that super booster Dave Brown was pulling the strings on this deal-- which has supposedly been in the works since June when Flood hired Jimmy Sexton as his agent-- which only undermines Hermann.

I can't say I'm thrilled about Flood receiving an extension. Flood has gone to two bowl games and shared a conference championship in his two seasons as head coach, but he inherited a full cupboard from Greg Schiano and he himself has done nothing to prove he is the right man to lead Rutgers going forward. The team has collapsed down the stretch in both of his seasons at the helm, including three blow out losses and a loss to a dreadful UConn team in conference play a year ago, and that's not even mentioning what he's done recruiting wise. Flood has alienated seemingly every high school coach and player in New Jersey by revoking the scholarship offers of multiple committed recruits who visited elsewhere. Things were looking very bleak as recently as a month ago, and I'm not sure what has changed between then and now.

This move could set Rutgers back quite a few years if things do not change, but one of the few bright spots of this move is it could help recruiting a little bit moving forward. Flood's job security has supposedly been one of the obstacles the program has faced on the recruiting trail, and this will at least quell those qualms. Rutgers has a HUGE batch of recruits visiting this weekend for the showdown with Penn State (including the #1 2016 recruit in the nation according to 247 Kareem Walker), so maybe that explains the timing.

Flood is a really good guy and I truly hope he succeeds, but he certainly has to improve quite a bit to justify this extension. Moves like hiring Ralph Friedgen are a step in the right direction on the field, and maybe improved play and more job security will result in better results recruiting wise. How this extension works out will probably define Hermann's tenure as athletic director, regardless of whether or not she had anything to do with it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rutgers Players From PA and Penn State Players from NJ

When you share a boarder with another program, you are going to compete for the same recruits as them, in your state and theirs. Florida State and Alabama do it, LSU and Texas A&M do it, Oklahoma and Texas do it, among countless other examples. That's just the way it is in college football and no matter who you are, you are going to win some battles and you are going to lose some battles. Rutgers and Penn State are no different than other neighboring states in that regard, so naturally Rutgers has a lot of players from Pennsylvania and Penn State has a lot of players from New Jersey.

The focus lately has been on what Penn State is doing recruiting wise in New Jersey, because quite frankly, James Franklin has been kicking Rutgers' ass on the recruiting trail this year. But Rutgers has hauled in quite a few blue chippers from Pennsylvania over the last few years as well. This week's match up will of course have future recruiting implications for both teams, as it could play a role in whether a recruit decides to become a Scarlet Knight or a Nittany Lion. This will be the first time the two programs have met since 1995, which was before players currently being recruited were born.

So which school has received a greater impact from players from their neighbor's own back yard? Let's take a look.

Penn State Players From New Jersey

Including walk ons, the Nittany Lions have fourteen players from New Jersey.

Big Time Football Bill Belton Sr. RB Sicklerville
Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: Belton is the Lions starting runningback, and he has 52 rushing yards through two games this season after rushing for 803 yards and 5 scores a year ago.

Jesse Merise Jr. CB Hillsdale
Rutgers Offer: No
At PSU: Walk on, not on two deep roster.

Saeed Blacknall Fr. WR Manalapan
Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: The one time Rutgers commit who decommitted a week before signing day has been pressed into action as a true freshman, but he has yet to record a reception.

Anthony Smith So FS Dover
Rutgers Offer: No
At PSU: Walk on, not on two deep roster.

Brandon Bell So. LB Oakcrest
Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: Bell is Penn State's starting strongside linebacker this year and he has recorded three tackles thus far.

Chris Gulla Fr. P Tom's River
Rutgers Offer: No
At PSU: Starting punter

Kyle Austin Fr. DB Robinsville
Rutgers Offer: No
At PSU: Walk on

Jason Cabinda  Fr. LB Felmington
Rutgers Offer: No
At PSU: Back up weakside linebacker

Wendy Laurent So. C Hamilton
Rutgers Offer: No
At PSU: Back up center.

Angelo Mangiro Jr. C Roxbury
Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: First year as a starter at center after two years of playing as a reserve.

Brendan Mahon Fr. OG Randolph
Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: New starter at left guard this year.

Mike Gesicki Fr. TE Manahawkin
Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: Presumably going to red shirt this year.

Garrett Sickels Fr. DE Red Bank
 Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: A reserve.

Antoine White Fr. DT Millville
Rutgers Offer: Yes
At PSU: Presumably redshirting.

Austin Johnson So. DT Galloway
Rutgers Offer:No
At PSU: Starting nose tackle with four tackles after recording 14 tackles and a sack as a reserve a year ago.

Rutgers Players From Pennsylvania

Rutgers has eleven players from Pennsylvania

Desmon Peoples So. RB Cheltenham
Penn State Offer: No
At RU: Back up running back who has rushed for 91 yards after rushing for 16 a year ago.

Rob Martin Fr. RB Harrisburg
Penn State Offer: Yes
At RU: Eight rushing yards in a reserve role as a true frosh.

Dre Boggs Fr. CB Coatsville
Penn State Offer: Yes
At RU: Boggs missed the first two games of the season with an injury, but he figures to see playing time as a reserve when he returns.

Nick Arcidiacono So. TE Holland
Penn State Offer: No
At RU: 5 receptions for 44 yards last season, has yet to play this year because of injury.

Sam Bergen Sr. FB East Stroudsburg
Penn State Offer: No
At RU: Special teams contributor.

Kevin Snyder Sr. LB Mechanicsburg
Penn State Offer: No
At RU: Snyder has been a four year contributor, playing all three linebacker spots. He started all 13 games at will a year ago and starts in the middle this year. He has recorded 178 tackeles (17 for loss) and five sacks in his career.

Sebastian Joseph Fr. DL Stroudsburg
Penn State Offer: No
At RU: One career tackle as the back up nose tackle this season.

Chris Muller So. OG Perkiommenville
Penn State Offer: Yes
At RU: Muller started 12 games at right guard last year and is the starter there again this year. Powerful run blocker who is improving in pass protection.

JJ Denman So. OT Yardley
Penn State Offer: Yes
At RU: The former Penn State commit is the back up at right tackle and has received playing time in both games this year.

Taj Alexander Sr. OT Downingtown
Penn State Offer: No
At RU: Alexander is the starter at right tackle and has started 16 games and played in 26 in his career.

Tyler Kroft Jr. TE Downingtown
Penn State Offer: No
At Rutgers: Kroft is a second year starter at tightend, and he caught 43 passes for 573 yards and 4 scores on his way to being named a first team All Big East performer a year ago.

Charles Scarff Fr. TE Lancaster
Penn State Offer: No
At RU" Walk on tightend.

In terms of volume, Penn State has more players and more starters from New Jersey than Rutgers does from Pennsylvania, but in terms of production, I think Rutgers comes out ahead. Kroft is an all conference caliber performer and Snyder is one of their best defensive players, while Penn State's Jersey LBs are relatively inexperienced. Muller, Denman and Alexander have been better than Penn St's Jersey trio of lineman as well, and a large part of Penn state's volume comes from their walk ons  who do not play. I am of course biased, but it seems Rutgers receives a bigger impact from players from Pennsylvania than Penn State does from New Jersey players in 2014.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Big 10 Power Rankings

Rankings are based upon not only the first two weeks of the season, but expected performance for the remainder of 2014 as well.

The Big 10 had an absolutely brutal week 2, as teams dropped high profile nonconference game while others struggled against FCS foes. It was basically the worst case scenario for the league whose national perception has been falling fast for a few years now. Many in the media are now declaring the conference's chance at getting a team in the four team playoff "dead," but that's completely ridiculous. There are still 13 weeks left in the season, and crazy things always happen in college football. I would be shocked if a one loss Big 10 team was left out of the playoffs. On to the rankings.

1. Michigan State

Sparty looked good for three quarters before ending up on the wrong side of Oregon's snowball. The worst thing you can do against the Ducks is go three and out on offense, and Michigan State did just that on three successive possessions, allowing Oregon to come back and win by 19 after trailing by 9. The frenzied pace Oregon plays at is no joke, and when your defense isn't getting a break, they are going to destroy you that pace.

Other than not being able to keep up with the pace, I thought Michigan State played well. Their front seven was stout against Oregon's run game, and Conor Cook and Tony Tippett looked like one of the top passing combinations in the league. Their rushing attack and pass protection against the blitz did leave a lot to be desired and their secondary was burnt a few times after biting on play acion fakes, however. This is still a very good team and they will be in the playoff if they run the table from here on out. Losing at Oregon should not be  knock out blow.

2. Ohio State

Ohio State's offense has looked putrid with out Braxton Miller, but I'm giving Urban Meyer the benefit of the doubt here. He is one of the best offensive minds in college football, and I have a hard time believing they won't figure something out. Virginia Tech has a very good defense, and they were just too much for the young Buckeye offensive line and JT Barrett to handle. (On a related note, how the hell is Bud Foster not a head coach yet? Maybe everyone just assumes he will take over for Beamer when he retires?) Runningback concerns after losing Carlos Hyde to the NFL persist, but their wide receivers and defensive line are outstanding and they have talent elsewhere. This ranking is more of a belief in their talent and coaching more than what they've actually done thus far.

3. Nebraska

The Huskers needed an insane effort from star running back Amer Abdullah to bail them out against McNeese State in the final minute to win last Saturday. It was a step in the wrong direction after thumping FAU in their season opener. Abdullah may very well be the best player in the conference and they have a solid offensive line, but this isn't the same Blackshirt defense Nebraska is accustomed to and Tommy Armstrong, while a good runner, has struggled to complete 50% of his passes.

4. Wisconsin

The Badgers lost a heartbreaker opening weekend by blowing a big lead against LSU, as the Tigers final exposed their flaws.

They of course have a dominant offensive line as usual, blocking for a very good but banged up back in Melvin Gordon and Jersey native Corey Clement. But Tanner McEvoy has looked pretty bad when throwing the ball and their receiving crop is pretty unimpressive after losing Jared Abbedaris to graduation. The defense has suffered a few injuries up front, and they are pretty young, but they should remain solid as Gary Anderson continues to install his 3-4 scheme.

5. Michigan

The Wolverines were embarrassed by Notre Dame last week and Brady Hoke's seat only gets warmer. Their offensive line is a disaster for the second year in a row, although they are starting true freshman this year instead of senior first round picks, and they can not run the ball. Devin Gardner can really sling it when he has time to throw and Devin Funchess is perhaps the most dangerous receiver in the conference. Their front seven on defense will be strong against the run, but they have had some trouble at corner in the early going. This team, like Ohio State, is given the benefit of the doubt based on talent so far.

6. Iowa

Iowa was my pick to win the west before the season started, but they have not played well in narrow wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State. Their running game, which was expected to be their strength has struggles, and likely top 10 draft pick left tackle Brandon Scherff is now hurt and expected to miss a few weeks. Their passing game, while inefficent, has been better than expected and their secondary and defensive line looks strong while are inexperienceed at linebacker.

7. Penn State

The Nittany Lions have Christian Hackensburg, probably the best quarterback in the conference, and a strong front seven on defense, but they have some major flaws as well. They can not run the ball at all, as their offensive line is young and getting pushed around and their stable of backs including Big Time  Football Bill Belton haven't been able to overcome that.

8. Rutgers

The secondary has to improve, but they have got off to an encouraging start. It look like Ralph Friedgen has fixed Gary Nova and Paul James has looked terrific running behind a very powerful and experienced offensive line. They have dangerous threats in the passing game in the expolisve Leonte Carroo and the solid Tyler Kroft. Darius Hamilton and Steve Longa are beasts in the middle against the run, but that secondary and Kyle Flood remain major question marks if not weaknesses.

9. Minnesota

They will have a terrific defense for the second year in a row under Jerry Kill, but they can not throw the ball at all. Lucky for them, David Cobb has been dominant running the ball.

10. Maryland

They turned the ball over six times against South Florida last week and were lucky to escape with a win. CJ Brown has been shaky at QB, but Stefan Diggs is perhaps the best playmaker in the conference. Injuries have been a major problem for them under Edsall as well, so depth could end up being an issue for them later in the season.

11. Indiana

Their defense was very bad last year, but they had an explosive offense. They've only played one game this season, against FCS Indiana State, but it appears that they will have an expolisve offense and a bad defense once again. They could be in line to go to a bowl game for the first time in a while this year.

12. Illinois

Like the Hoosiers, they have an expolsive offense and a bad defense. Oklahoma State tranfer Wes Lunt has led them to two shoo out wins in the early going.

13. Northwestern

They have now lost 9 straight after starting 5-0 last year. Ugly home losses against Cal and Northern Illinois looked bad, and star runningback Venric Mack left the program. They do have former Rutgers wide out Miles Shuler though.

14. Purdue

Bad, bad football team all around.