Thursday, October 16, 2014

Week 8 B1G Power Rankings and Picks

1. Ohio State
Last Week: Bye
This Week: Rutgers
Prediction: Coming Soon

Their offense has really been rolling since that weird loss to Virginia Tech. The young offensive line has played really well and JT Barrett has basically replicated Braxton Miller. Joey Bosa leads the stout front seven, but the secondary is a bit of a weakness. Urban Meyer has done a good job with this young team.

2. Michigan State
Last Week: 45-31 win at Purdue
This Week: at Indiana
Prediction: MSU 48 IND 16

Purdue had the ball with a minute left down seven, so this game was closer than the final score indicates. Their offense has played really well, but the defense has not lived up to its' very lofty expectations. Indiana will not give them any problems, however.

3. Nebraska
Last Week: Bye
This Week: at Northwestern
Prediction: NEB 27 NW 20

I would expect their defense to play better in the second half of the year, Pelini is a very good defensive coach. Ameer Abdullah is probably the cream of the crop at the running back position in the Big 10, despite the low yardage total in East Lansing.

4. Rutgers
Last Week: Bye
This Week: at Ohio State
Prediction: Coming Soon

The advanced stats have Rutgers ranked 24th nationally. That is kind of surprising, especially since these stats usually have the Knights lower than they should be (at least in my opinion). But Rutgers is rated as a top 36 team in all three phases of the game, so that's at least believable.

5. Minnesota
Last Week: 24-17 win over Northwestern
This Week: Purdue
Prediction: MIN 24 PUR 14

A big kick return for a touchdown and a solid defense and running game won the Gophers a big Big 10 West showdown last week.

6. Iowa
Last Week: 45-29 win over Indiana
This week: at Maryland
Prediction: Iowa 31 Maryland 27

Their offense exploded against Indian's struggling defense. They are very much in the thick of things in the wide open west, and they do have Nebraska at home the day after Thanksgiving.

7. Northwestern
Last Week: 24-17 loss at Minnesota
This Week: Nebraska
Prediction: NW 20 NEB 27

Their defense has played really well the last few weeks, but they need more out of their offense. Veneric Mack's late decision to transfer has really hurt them.

8. Wisconsin
Last Week: 38-28 win over Illinois
This Week: Bye

Joel Stave replaced Tanner McEvoy at QB, but the Badgers still lack difference makers at wide out and still can not moe the ball through the air. Their offensive line is still dominant and Melvin Gordon seemingly runs for 200 yards every week, so they are far totally helpless on O.

9. Michigan
Last Week: 18-13 win over Penn State
This Week: Bye

The Wolverines keep continuing to fight despite a lot of distractions. Their front seven should keep them in a lot of games, and I think offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has done a good job despite injuries, the young/bad line and Gardner being streaky.

10. Maryland
Last week: Bye
This Week: Iowa
Prediction: Maryland 27 Iowa 31

Their defense has been lit up by teams that have actual offenses (ie. not Syracuse and USF) and I'm not buying their own offense for some reason. This is not a bad team and they should go bowling, I'm just not nearly as high on them as others seem to be.

11. Penn State
Last Week: 18-13 loss at Michigan
This Week: Bye

Hackenberg threw his first touchdown pass since September 6, but he has still throwin more interceptions than touchdowns. Not all his fault, obviously. They have a great defense but it isn't enough to overcome the seemingly helpless offense.

12. Purdue
Last Week: 45-31 loss at Purdue
This Week: at Minnesota
Prediction: PUR 14 MIN 24

Darrell Hazell's team has been surprisingly competitive against some really good teams. They are not a very good, but the program is definitely going in the right direction.

13. Indiana
Last Week: 45-29 loss at Iowa
This Week: Michigan State
Prediction: IND 16 MSU 48

The defense was again lit up and they lost QB Nate Sudfeld for the year. A promising start to the season has turned south in a hurry.

14. Illinois
Last Week: 38-28 loss at Wisconsin
This Week: Bye

They at least scored some points with out Lunt, but their defense isn't stopping anybody.

Other Picks
Oklahoma 27 Kansas State 21

Bob Stoops rarely loses at home and Trevor Knight will probably get back on track after a couple rough games (please call Katy Perry, dude).

Florida State 37 Notre Dame 34

I actually think Notre Dame is pretty legit this year, but I can't imagine their defense slowing down the Noles at the Doak after getting picked apart by North Carolina,

Alabama 41 Texas A&M 24

The Tide have played two sub par games in a row and I think they are going to run all over the Aggies. Kenny Hill won't provide the Manziel magic* in this one.

*Manziel magic is another way of saying Luke Joeckl, Mike Evans, Ryan Swopes, Christine Michael and Jake Matthews.

Arkansas 24 Georgia 20

Didn't happen this week against Mizzou, but Georgia's offense will miss Todd Gurley. The Razorbacks (maybe the worst team in the SEC west) will run the ball effectively to beat the best team in the SEC East.

Oregon 34 Washington 30

The Huskies have not defeated the Ducks in 10 years, and I don't think they can pull of the upset. The opportunistic defense led by Shaq Thompoon will keep it interesting.

TCU 41 Oklahoma State 34

That TCU Baylor games was something else last week. The Horned Frogs could easily have a let down after that gut wrenching loss, but Gary Patterson will keep it together.

Arizona State 28 Stanford 21 (seven field goals)

I wonder if Todd Graham has any family in Ann Arbor or Gainsville.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rutgers Midseason Review

Rutgers' first bye week of the season comes exactly at the half way point, so this seems like as good of a time as any to take stock in what has happened in the Scarlet Knights' first six games.

Before the season, I thought Rutgers would go 4-8. I felt that the talent was there to compete in the watered down Big 10, but I had very little confidence in Kyle Flood getting the job done after not only losing but getting blown out my a number of inferior teams in the AAC last year. A bowl berth would have been considered a major success coming into the 2014 season. Through six games they have already surpassed my projected win total and one win away from bowl eligibility. I'm happy to be wrong.

Rutgers was able to win a shoot out over Washington State in a game many thought would see their much maligned secondary exposed by the pass happy Cougs. They gave up a whole lot of yards, but clamped down in the redzone and let the offense do their thing. They were also able to win what I thought would be an extremely tough game at Navy.

But funny enough, the one game they actually lost, their Big 10 debut at home against Penn State, was one of the four games I had marked down as a win.

We Still Don't Know What to Expect From Gary Nova
We all knew that Gary Nova was going to be Rutgers quarterback all season, come hell or high water, but we had no idea what to expect out of him performance wise. His play in the first half of the year did not provide much clarity.

Nova is 5th nationally in passing efficiency, and he did throw for a career high 404 yards against a solid Michigan defense, but that five interception game against Penn State still happened. Hopefully that was just a blip on the radar and he continues playing like he has in the other five games the rest of the way.

Just How Good is the Offensive Line?
Rutgers offensive line was able to dominate against non power five opponents like Howard, Tulane and Navy, as well as a Washington State defense made soft by the air raid offense they had to practice against through out training camp, but they struggled mightily in their first two Big 10 games. They averaged 4.4 yards a carry and only allowed three sacks in their four out of conference games, but they are averaging just 2.89 yards a carry with five sacks allowed in the two conference games.

Michigan and Penn State are flawed teams, but they are both very good at defending the run, and they even rank first and second in the Big 10 in rushing defense (going by yards per attempt instead of total yards). Hopefully those two poor performances were just a result of facing two ery tough defense. The worst performances of the year are hopefully behind the Knights, but things obviously have to improve. I don't mean to call out or criticize players, but LG Kaleb Johnson came into the year as an NFL prospect and he has not played up to expectations. They will need better play from right tackle too, whether it's from Taj Alexander or JJ Denman.

I believe this unit will play better moving forward, and they pretty much have to for this team to be able to run the ball well with out Paul James.

Kemoko Turay: The Real Deal, But Still a Ways to Go
Turay barely played football in high school and sat out last year as a redshirt, but he supposedly was really impressive on the scout team and carried that level of impressive play over into spring and fall camp this year. Combining a rare blend of length, athleticism, and explosion off the ball, he has burst on to the scene seemingly out of nowhere as one of the best pure pass rushers in college football. He in actually leads the Big 10 in sacks with 5.5.

There is no questioning his success as a pass rusher, but in order for him to become a starter and reach (or come close to) his considerably high ceiling, he is going to need to play better against the run. He is still a bit undersized and learning the intricacies of the defense and run fits and stuff, but those things should come with time. Turay is a great player now, and he will only get scarier for opposing teams in the coming years.

The Secondary Has Improved
Rutgers secondary was historically bad a year ago, so it was almost impossible for them to not get better this year. This group is still pretty young, and they have not exactly been dominant, but they have been good enough to win ball games.

Obviously, they haven't played quarterbacks in the realm of Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or Derek Carr (all three of whom are starting in the NFL now), but the numbers have improved by leaps and bounds. They allowed 31 passing touchdowns last year, and they have only given up 6 through half a season this year. They were 101st in pass efficiency defense and have made a modest improvement to 79th so far this year. There's still a lot of room for improvement, but they are trending in the right direction.

One noticeable change Joe Rossi has made this year is playing more man coverage. The Knights watched their zone coverages get picked apart last year, and Rossi has made the adjustment back to the coverages the program has had a ton of success with in the past. I also think that Nadir Barnwell has become a very good cover corner this year, and one of the few reliable tacklers this defense has in the secondary.He was a blue chip recruit, so he is only going to get better and hopefully anchor this unit for the next couple years.

Blue Chippers Playing Like Blue Chippers
Speaking of blue chip recruits, Rutgers 4 and 5 star guys are playing like 4 and 5 star guys, finally. After disappointing returns on previous blue chippers like Savon Higgins and Tom Savage, Darius Hamilton, Leonte Carroo, Chris Muller and Barnwell have all lived up to the hype. Hamilton and Carroo are pretty clearly Rutgers' best players on defense and offense respectively, and they both have legitimate cases to being named first team all Big 10 at the midway point of the season.

Muller and Barnwell both had some growing pains as freshman a season ago, but they have both made great strides this year. Muller has been much improved in pass protection, looking quicker and committing less penalties as a result, while still being a powerful run blocker. Barnwell has been Rutgers top cover man, and he has been strong against the run as well.

Stepping Up Oppsite Carroo?
When defenses prepare for Rutgers, they seem to have one thing in mind: stop Leonte Carroo at all costs. This has led to him getting double teamed most of the time, and that theoretically should open the field up for other receivers to do damage. But that was not the case in the early going.

Tightend Tyler Kroft, who was great last year, has not seen a lot of balls come his way, and Rutgers has had trouble finding a #2 receiver with Ruhan Peele yet to play a game and Andre Patton missing four games and being extremely limited in the other two. Andrew Turzilli has emerged as a dangerous deep threat who can "hit home runs" with the secondary rolling over to account for Carroo, and his recent big games will hopefully prevent defenses from focusing al their attention to one guy.

Turzilli's emergence and Patton and Peele hopefully becoming healthy and getting more looks will improve the Knights passing attack and hopefully alleviate the pressure on RU's go to receiver.

Linebckers as steady as ever
There were some articles written recently about Steve Longa's tackle total being down from last year, but his numbers really don't tell the story of how well he has played this year. Teams have tried to pass on Rutgers much more than they have run, in fact only 15 teams have seen fewer rushing attempts against them than Rutgers (and 4 of them have played less games), so naturally that is gong to cause his numbers to drop. Both he and Kevin Snyder have been outstanding in pass coverage and on blitzes this year, and Quinton Gause has been getting into opponent's backfield to make plays. The linebacking group is one of Rutgers' biggest strengths and they have been great so far this year.

At 5-1, Rutgers has gotten off to a great start to the season, and probably have already exceeded expectations (from the outside at least), but they still have a tough road ahead. The Scarlet Knights still have road trips at Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Maryland to make, as well as home contests against Wisconsin and Indiana. They only need one more win to achieve bowl eligibility for the ninth time in ten years, and I would guess they will be favored in two or three of their last six games. An 8-4 record while going 4-4 in conference play would be a pretty big success in Rutgers inagural Big 10 season. Let's hope they get there.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Week 7 B1G Power Rankings

1. Michigan State
Last Week:27-22 win over Nebraska
This Week: at Purdue
Prediction MSU 45 PUR 14

The Spartans got a big win over the Huskers at home last week, despite nearly blowing a big lead in the fourth quarter. Their run defense stepped up in a big way, limiting Ameer Adbullah to just 44 yards (though he managed to find the endzone twice). Offensively, Conner Cook struggled, but the run game stepped up to put some points on the board.

2. Ohio State
Last Week: 52-24 win over Maryland
This Week: Bye

The Buckeyes clobbered Maryland in the Terrapins first Big 10 home game. Urban Meyer's offense is dangerous and fully operational again after some early hiccups, and the front seven has been a major strength as well. Their secondary has struggled some.

3. Nebraska
Last Week: 27-22 loss to Michigan State
This Week: Bye

I'm not going to knock them too much for a road loss to the best team in the conference. I still think they are the clear front runner in the west.

4. Rutgers
Last Week: 26-24 win over Michigan
This Week: Bye

Gary Nova ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing efficiency after tearing up the Wolverines through the air. The secondary has been improving as well. They face a huge test after the bye when they visit Columbus.

5. Minnesota
Last Week: Bye
This Week: Northwestern
Prediction: MIN 17 NW 14

Jerry Kills's team does not have the most talent in the league, but they are well coached and very disciplined. The defense does not have any stand out players, but they are tough and tackle very well. David Cobb is the offense's bell cow and flies under the national radar because of the other backs in this league.

6. Iowa
Last Week: Bye
This Week: Indiana
Prediction: Iowa 28 Indiana 21

Iowa is planning to play two quarterbacks this week. You know what they say about when you have two quarterbacks.....Their run game is improving and Brandon Shreff may be the best offensive lineman in the country.

7. Northwestern
Last Week: 20-14 win vs Wisconsin
This Week: at Minnesota
Prediction: MIN 17 NW 14

Northwestern's defense has been one of the major surprises in the Big 10 this season. Pat Fitzgerald deserves a lot of credit for keeping his team focused after a pretty bad start to the year.

8. Wisconsin
Last Week: 20-14 loss at Northwestern
This Week: vs Illinois
Prediction: WIS 45 ILL 20

Melvin Gordon seemingly rushes for 200 yards every week behind a powerful offensive line, but the Badgers have absolutley no threats in the passing game. Their defense has been ok, and they are banged up and pretty young on this side of the ball.

9. Penn State
Last Week: Bye
This Week: at Michigan
Prediction: PSU 6 MICH 9

Did you know: superstar Christian Hackenberg has not thrown a touchdown pass since September 6? Part of that is because of their horendous offensive line and running game, but that is still shocking. They might have the best defensie in the conference though, Mike Hull and Anthony Zettel seem like sure fire all conference players.

10. Maryland
Last Week: 52-24 loss to Ohio State
This Week: Bye

The Terps defense has been pretty brutal this year, despite Andre Monroe's superb play upfront. Their offense has been a bit streaky, and like Iowa, they are trying to make a two QB system work.

11. Michigan
Last Week: 26-24 Loss at Rutgers
This Week: Penn State
Prediction MICH 9 PSU 6

I give the Wolverines players a lot of credit. They easily could have packed it in for the year and they played very hard against Rutgers, despite the loss. With Devin Gardner at the helm, their offense at least has a chance to score some point. Their front 7 is very stout, but their secondary can be exposed, as shown lat week.

12. Indiana
Last Week: 49-24 Win over North Texas
This Week: at Iowa
Prediction: Iowa 28 Indiana 21

Tevin Coleman would be the best back in a lot of conferences. They need more from their passing game and defense if they want to become bowl eligible.

13. Purdue
Last Week: 38-27 win over at Illinois
This Week: Michigan State
Prediction: PUR 14 MSU 45

Purdue ran all over the Illini for 349 yards, led by Akeem Hunt who had 177. Austin Appleby played a very efficent game at QB as well.

14. Illinois
Last Week: 38-27 loss to Purdue
This Week: at Wisconsin
Prediction ILL 20 WIS 45

They let Purdue! run all over them. And Wes Lunt is out 4-6 weeks. This team is dead in the water. They only question now seems to be when will Tim Beckham be fired.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Game 6: Michigan

Greg Schiano shortly after deciding to stay at Rutgers rather than go to Michigan
Rutgers on Offense: I think the Scarlet Knights are going to have to rely on their passing game in this one, Michigan's front seven is very stout against the run, but their secondary has been shaky. Will Gary Nova be up for the challenge in his first Big 10 game following the five interception performance against Penn State? Who knows, it's so tough to get a gauge on him. I'm interested to see if Andre Patton is ready to go, because he could break free for a couple big plays if Leonte Carroo is doubled as expected. Tyler Kroft attacking the seem against the slow Wolverine linebackers could be another factor. Need the offensive line to pass protect better than they did against the Nittany Lions.

Rutgers on Defense: They need to do exactly what they did against Penn State in this one. They need to dominate up front to totally shut down the running game and blitz the ever loving crap out of them. Michigan's offensive line is almost as bad as Penn State's, they need to be exploited. Devin Funchess is my biggest concern on their offense, he should probably be double teamed, they don't have many other weapons. Devin Gardner, like Gary Nova, has been broken by his coaching staff and is extremely turn over prone. The Knights haven't forced many turn over this season, now would be a good time to force a few.

Injuries/Suspensions: Safety Jonathan Aiken will have to sit out the first half after being ejected a week ago for targeting, but Delon Stephenson is listed as probably and should get the start in his place at free safety. Fellow defensive backs Anthony Cioffi, Nadir Barnwell and Gareef Glashan are listed as probably.

Kevin Snyder is also probable, after missing the Navy game and playing sparingly against Tulane. Hopefully he is at full go this week, otherwise LJ Liston will start at middle linebacker.

Back up SAM backer Myles Nash is the only questionable player for this game.

On the other side, Jersey native Jabrill Peppers is questionable.He has not played a lot this year because of some sort of injury, but when healthy he is their nickel back and punt returner.

Prediction: Rutgers 24 Michigan 17

Friday, October 3, 2014

Greg Webb to Transfer to Rutgers

For the third time in the past few months Rutgers has added a former blue chip recruit recruit via transfer, with defensive tackle Greg Webb set to join the Scarlet Knights' program next season. The former Timber Creek (Erial, NJ) star signed with North Carolina out of high school and he is currently attending Hutchinson Community College in Kansas after running into some academic troubles in Chapel Hill. Rutgers has one of the best academic support systems of any football program in the country, so they should be able to keep his academic affairs in order.

Webb is a big, strong, space eating nose tackle type (6'1'' 315) who can stand up against double teams at the point of attack and free up other defenders. The Scarlet Knights have preferred smaller defensive lineman over the years, but having one big guy in the middle certainly won't hurt. He is pretty quick on the interior himself and plays with a very good motor, which big defensive tackles often lack. Rutgers needs all the quality defensive line depth they can get moving forward, so obviously this will be a great addition to the team. He will have three years of eligibility remaining beginning  in 2015.

Hopefully they don't move him to guard.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

How Will Rutgers Deal With the Loss of Paul James?

Rutgers running back Paul James will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn ACL in the Scarlet Knights win over Navy two weeks ago. He was injured early in the second quarter when he took a helmet to the knee in the open field. James has suffered a number of serious injuries through out his career, and you can't help but feel awful for him.

James was the catalyst of the Rutgers offense that got off to a pretty good start to the season (save for the disastrous second half against Penn State), so losing him is obviously a big blow. It looked like he added some more speed and power to go along with the tremendous vision and quickness he displayed in the past, rushing for 363 yards (5.8 per carry) with seven total touchdowns through three games and a quarter in 2014. He was arguably the Scarlet Knights best player, but running back is one of the few positions Rutgers is equipped at to deal with an injury.

Desmon Peoples will step in as the nominal starter, but he will not be able to make up for James' production alone. This is going to be more of a replace Jason Giambi's numbers with David Justice and Scott Hatteberg kind of deal. Peoples (4.3 ypc) and Justin Goodwin (4.7 ypc) are both going to see an increase in carries, and they have both proved to be capable ball carriers over the last two seasons.

Goodwin is James lite, possessing patience, vision and quickness comparable to PJ, albeit it with out the speed and power. He did an admirable job starting a few games in place of James last year as a true freshman, and he has proven to be a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield as well. Peoples is I still think more of a scat back since he doesn't have the patience necessary for the type of running game Rutgers deploys, but his speed has been an asset spelling James so far this year. The offensive line has been very good this year at opening holes for the backs, so that combined with these two should allow Rutgers to continue running the ball effectively with out James.

Another way Rutgers can make up for the loss of James is through the passing game. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen has relied heavily on the running game in the early going since Rutgers has been with out their second and third receivers, Andre Patton and Ruhan Peele. The return of those two will obviously give quarterback Gary Nova more weapons to throw to and hopefully prevent defenses from double teaming Leontee Carroo on basically every play. Patton is a big target who has speed and can stretch the field vertically, while Peele is a slot guy who is tough over the middle and a good route runner.

Losing James obviously sucks for the team, but Rutgers offense should be able to survive his injury this year. The offensive line needs to play as well in conference play as they did in the non conference slate, and Goodwin and Peoples need to just keep being themselves and not try to do too much and the passing game should improve as two of their top three receivers come back from injury. It will be a group effort making up for James lost production, but I think the Knights are capable of doing it, especially with The Fridge at the helm.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Week 6 B1G Power Rankings and Picks

1. Michigan State

2. Ohio State

3. Nebraska

4. Wisconsin

5. Rutgers

6. Maryland

7. Iowa

8. Minnesota

9. Penn State

10. Indiana

11. Northwestern

12. Illinois

13. Michigan

14. Purdue

Michigan State 45 Nebraska 34

The Huskers travel to East Lansing for a n early season conference show down that very well may be the Big 10 championship game preview. I think AMeer Abdullah will have a big day against the stout Spartan defense, but Conner Cook and Tony Lippett will be able to beat Nebraska's secondary in a shoot out.

Illinois 42 Purdue 24

The Boilers won't be able to stop Wes Lunt and Co.

Ohio State 45 Maryland 27

The young Buckeye offense keeps improving, and Maryland has struggled stopping non incompetent offenses (ie. not Syracuse).

Wisconsion 31 Northwestern 20

The Wildcats got a surprising win at Penn State last week, but Wisconsin's running game will be too powerful for them to stop.

Indiana 52 North Texas 24

The Hoosiers are so erratic, I guess they are due for a good week.

Elsewhere (big week in the SEC West):

Alabama 38 Ole Miss 17

The Rebels scream paper tigers. Lane Kiffin's offense has been explosive and Bo Wallace will probably turn the ball over a bunch of times.

Auburn 34 LSU 24

LSU was lit up by Dak Prescott's dual threat abilities, so I would expect Nick Marshall to have similar success. Plus the Bayou Bengals are starting a true freshman on the road.

Texas A&M 41 Mississippi State 30

Dan Mullen put himself in great position to land a better job (Michigan? Florida?) after winning at LSU. Will he be able to pull of another upset? Kenny Trill says no.

Oklahoma 35 TCU 24

First big test for the Horned Frogs, who appear much improved. Oklahoma might very well be the best team in the country right now.

Notre Dame 24 Stanford 18 (six field goals)

Stanford's offense has been a joke in the red zone and Everett Golsonand the Irish passing attack has been on a roll.