Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cupcakes of Death!: Michigan Schedules New 2010 Opponents

Everyone loves cupcakes. Come on! Who doesn't love cupcakes?

Michigan is slowly but surely filling out it's 2010 schedule.
They made some good progress today by chiseling in games versus Massachussetts for September 18th, 2010.

Michigan also scheduled another contest versus MAC opponent Bowling Green on September 25th.

Both games will be played in Michigan Stadium.

Athletic Director Bill Martin says he'strying to hunt down a nice profile opponent for Wolverines for the September 4th season opener and inaugural game for the newly-renovated Michigan Stadium.

I like cupcakes. But in college football terminology, Michigan fans should probably refrain from using such sentiments (including yours truly). Recent losses to Appalachian State and Toledo exempt Michigan fans from demeaning any future non-conference opponent ever again as far as I'm concerned. Unless, of course, it's Notre Dame :).

So now UM fans must ask themselves whether U.Mass (a great university and one of the best FCS football schools there is) and Bowling Green (a pretty decent MAC opponent) are truly "cupcake opponents".....OR:

CUPCAKES OF DEATH!!! Bwahahahahahaha!

I certainly hope not.

But I like the fact that Rodriguez and Martin are going after scheduling a little more aggressively in terms of filling the slates earlier and not waiting until the last second.

As far as that September 4th open date is concerned, Navy, Army and West Virginia are booked, but Pittsburgh doesn't seem to be doing anything on that Saturday (yet).

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Magic of Rodriguez in Year 2?

Spring practice concluded several weeks ago. Michigan Wolverine football players will be participating in the so called "voluntary summary workouts".

The Michigan football team returns 10 offensive starters and just 5 defensive starters for the 2009 campaign. Pundits love to refer frequently to Rich Rodriguez's supposed "magic" in Year 2 of his coaching stints, and about how such magic might rub off on Michigan this fall:

1991: Glenville State 4-5-1 as HC (GVSU was 1-7-1 in 1990)

1998: Tulane 12-0 as OC (Tulane was 7-4 in 1997)

2000: Clemson 9-3 as OC (Clemson was 6-6 in 1999)

2002: West Virginia 9-4 as HC (West Virginia was 3-8 in 2001)

2009: Michigan ?

Let's quickly review Rodriguez most recent coaching assignment at West Virginia.

2001 - Year 1
In 2001, West Virginia was coming off a 7-5 season under Don Nehlen and a Music City bowl win over Mississippi. Offensively, outgoing coach Nehlen did not leave the cupboard entirely bare:

Sports Illustrated's prediction:

WVU went out and found themselves a former player and graduate as the new head coach. Not only that but Rich Rodriguez comes from a Clemson program where he was the offensive coordinator of a system that broke over 35 offensive school records. Morgantown shows all the promises of a fireworks display come fall Saturdays. The only problem in that equation for this fall is that the entire front wall has disappeared completely.

OFFENSE: 4 Starters
West Virginia lost star WR Kory Ivy, and the entire offensive line save one.
Returning starting players included QBs Brad Lewis and Scott McBrien (eventual transfer to Maryland), tailback Avon Cobourne, WR Antonio Brown and a senior guard named Brad Nell. Rodriguez did have the benefit of a veteran crew of wideouts, however, including Shawn Terry, AJ Nastasi, Phil Braxton and Mike Page.

DEFENSE: 9 Starters
Chris Edmonds and David Carter graduated, but all others came back.
This was the perhaps the most encouraging sign for the 2001 season for West Virginia.
If the offense sucked, at least the defense could hold the team together long enough (UM football fans might find that concept eerily familiar). West Virginia college football prognosticators stated in the preseason: "the defense alone is going to win some ballgames."

In the end, the offense moved the ball inconsistently all season and threw a starting number of turnovers (19 INTs!). The WVU defense was one of the best defensive teams in the land against the pass, but was godawful against the run.

West Virginia finished 3-8 in 2001.

2002 - Year 2
A year later, in 2002, West Virginia was no where near the Top 25 or even Top 50 teams in the country. There were few reasons to pay any close attention to the Mountaineers following a 3-8 season and unknown Rich Rodriguez at the helm.

But something strange happened in this second year of the new system.

Sports Illustrated's preseason prediction:

He ran for over 1000 yards every season since entering the program, even during the dry spell. Senior to be Avon Cobourne may not receive the recognition most athletes at high level universities receive, but his stats are undeniably one of the reasons WVU is a legit running threat. In a wide spread operation under the control of Head Coach Rich Rodriguez, Avon has the ability to catch the pigskin as well. He represents the total package, excelling at running, catching, and blocking. The spring showed more use of the power formation, locating a big fullback could really help and Moe Fofana just might be that guy. With new quarterbacks lining up for 2002, Avon's legs are going to need to carry some weight. To run this complex offensive system, the man at the helm has to be athletic and a quick thinker. Enter Rasheed Marshall, a ball player that maintains excellent speed and the ability to make decisions without hesitation. Brad Lewis was a better than descent pick for playing QB, but his game just never seemed to take hold last fall.

OFFENSE: 7 starters
Key offensive losses included Brad Lewis-QB, Cooper Rego-SB, Antonio Brown-WR, Shawn Terry-WR, Shawn Swindall-WR (backup), Brad Knell-OG, Brenden Rauh-K, Derek Jones-QB (backup- transferred). In 2002 The QB position would be precarious: Sophomore Rasheed Marshall with 4 games experienced prior to breaking his wrist and unknown freshman Danny Embick. The running game would not be deep, but would be talented and experienced with Avon Cobourne and Quincy Wilson. The OL which had 1 returning starter in 2001, would have everyone back in 2002 except OG Brad Nell. Jeff Berk would replace Nell. With a QB of questionable arm strength and throwing accuracy, and no proven wideout to cash deep balls, Rodriguez would throw most of the weight of his playbook behind the now indoctrinated offensive line and the crazy legs of Rasheed Marshall, Avon Cobourne, Quincy Wilson.

DEFENSE: 6 starters
Graduation losses were evenly distributed accross the DL (2), LB corps (1) and secondary (2), but this group would retain a lot of experience and talent. In 2002, Rodriguez changed the defense from a 4-4 to the infamous 3-3-5 with Grant Wiley the most damaging-inflicting tackler. Ironically, RR new focus would be on stopping the run and hoping his experienced secondary, now in a 5-man configuration would be good enough to match the previous year's passing defense numbers.

Rodriguez's adjustments in year 2 worked remarkably well both offensively and defensively . The Mountaineers quite literally shredded the opposition on the ground finishing 2nd in the nation in rushing yards (and 108th in passing yards). Tailback Avon Cobourne had a coming out party rushing for over 1,000 and crossing the goal line 17 times alone. In fact, West Virginia found itself in the end zone 38 times in 2002. Is that number significant? Well, yes. That's a lot of rushing touchdowns. But the delta is what makes this number most interesting in that one year before RichRod's grew rushed for only 16 touchdowns. The 2002 adjustments (year 2) led the Mountaineers to 22 more rushing TDs!

Is past performance always indicative of future results? No. Not always.
But we may be observing some interesting parallels between Rodriguez's earlier coaching jobs, the adjustment of moving from a pro-set, multiple I-formation offense and even 4-4 defenses to the spread offense and 3-3-5 defense. There also appear to be a number of striking similarities between the 2001-2002 seasons at West Virginia and Michigan's 2008-2009 football seasons, although Rodriguez and the young Wolverine team have all their disclosures to make this coming September.

2009 Big Ten Team Predictions

Kick off of the 2009 college football season is only 103 days away.
Time for ridiculously early football team predictions that make for great reading amusement in the merry month of May! Here we go:

Penn State
Penn State finished a spectacular football season in 2008 under Joe Paterno, who now enters his 44th year as Nittany Lion head coach. Penn State finished 11-2-0 overall, losing first a nightmarish evening away game to Iowa by a last second FG, and then experiencing a blowout loss at the hands of the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl. Offensively, Penn State returns only 5 starters in 2009, including explosive senior QB Darryl Clark and star TB Evan Royster. Royster is durable hellion, who rushed for a staggering 1,236 yards and 12 TDs and a 6.5 ypc in 2008. With Clark under center in the spread offense, Penn State steamrolled the competition for 5,426 yards total offense last year. Unfortunately, the offensive line and receiving positions have been hit by graduation and must be reloaded. Wideouts Graham Zug and Brett Brackett must step up their game to replace the the firepower provided by the Butler, Norwood, Williams combo last fall. The TE position is very talented with Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler both returning. PSU loses 3 OL starters to graduation including all-star center AQ Shipley. Penn State may field the best defense in the entire Big Ten conference. Leading tackler Aaron Maybin is gone, but the Lions return 7 starters plus star LB Sean Lee comes back into the lineup. The Penn State schedule is covered in frosting and pretty little sprinkles called Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois. The Lions miss Wisconsin and Purdue on the conference slate. If PSU can rebuild the offensive line and find some decent receivers, then it should be another very happy season in Nittany Valley.
2008 Result: 11-2
2009 Bakery Basket Opponent: Eastern Illinois
2009 Falling Anvil Opponent: Ohio State
Likely Outcome: 10-2, 6-2

Ohio State
In 2008 the Ohio State Buckeyes started the season slow, due to injuries, but seemed to improve as the year wore on right up to the Fiesta Bowl finale loss to Texas. The Buckeyes finished 7-1 in conference play and 10-3 overall. Offensively, QB Terrelle Pryor will run the show in 2009. Despite losing Beanie Wells, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie to graduation and the NFL, there is more than sufficient talent to reload at every position, thanks to consecutive top 10 recruiting classes by head coach Jim Tressel and staff. The Ohio State offensive line has disappointed at times over the last three years. This year’s group should be much better with Browning, Brewster and Cordle returning, plus Michigan transfer Justin Boren at guard, and Andy Miller possibly playing at tackle. Replacing a power back like Beanie Wells would be a nightmare for most college football programs. Not for Ohio State. The Buckeyes return with tailbacks galore including Daniel “Boom” Herron, Brandon “Zoom” Saine, as well as incoming 5 star freshman Jamaal Berry from Miami, FL to drive OSU opponents “nuts”. Perhaps the biggest reason to watch the Buckeyes this fall is defense because they return 7 starters from a very good unit. Indeed, both LBs Marcus Freeman, and James Laurinaitus may be off to the NFL, along with talented CBs Donald Washington and Malcolm Jenkins, but the Ohio State front four of Worthington, Larimore, Gibson and Heyward may be one of the best in the Big Ten if not the nation. Despite the losses of Washington and Jenkins, the Buckeye secondary has depth and experience. The non-conference schedule will be a challenge - sort of. Toledo and New Mexico State are both dead on arrival opponents. But games versus Navy and USC might at least be interesting viewing. In conference play, the Buckeyes miss both Michigan State and Northwestern. OSU may very well blast through the first 9 games with little if any damage. However, the last three games might be the toughest: At PSU, Iowa, and then at Michigan.
2008 Result: 10-3
Bakery Basket Opponent: New Mexico State
Falling Anvil Opponent: at Penn State, USC, and (dare I say it?) at Michigan
Likely outcome: 9-3, 6-2

Michigan State
There’s a lot of excitement in East Lansing these days following a 9-4-0 season under Mark Dantonio, who is 16-10 so far and entering only his third season. MSU’s 2008 season had a similar start, middle, and end. All were punctuated by disappointing defeats to rather tough opponents. California, Ohio State, Penn State and Georgia all defeated the Spartans in rather convincing fashion. There were high points, however, including glorious wins against Notre Dame, Iowa, in-state rival Michigan and Wisconsin. Things appear to have changed for MSU football in the sense that the psychological problems under John L. Smith seem to be over. The Spartans played tough all year, competed in every game, and never quit regardless of the score. Dantonio deserves credit for this improved team discipline. In 2009, the Spartans return 6 starters on offense, but lose their leading passer (Bryan Hoyer, 2,400 yards) and leading rusher (Javon Ringer, 1,637 yards). Candidates at QB include talented veterans Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol (an Oklahoma transfer). At running back AJ Jimmerson must pick up the slack for NFL-bound Ringer, or make room for talented 4-star freshmen recruits Edwin Baker and Larry Caper. Defensively, Michigan State still fields a good level of talent and experience, including four outstanding linebackers in Greg Jones, Eric Gordon, Adam Decker and Ryan Allison. The Spartan DL must be rebuilt, however, around star DE Trevor Anderson. If the Spartan defense can anchor the team long enough for the offense to gel, this should be another successful season for Michigan State. In non-conference play, the Spartans will play cupcake-extraordinaire and APR-challenged Montana State, followed by at Notre Dame, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. In conference play, the Spartans miss Ohio State and Indiana, and get to play Twisted (Big?) Sister school Michigan in the Green House.
In 2008, Michigan State’s schedule was the 15th toughest in the land. This year it looks to be even tougher.
2008 Result: 9-4
Bakery Basket Opponent: Montana State
Falling Anvil Opponent: if not Michigan, then at Illinois
Likely outcome: 9-3, 6-2

If there’s one team in the Big Ten that could really surprise people, it would be the Iowa Hawkeyes. And if we find ourselves so surprised come October time-frame, it will be because head coach Kirk Ferentz discovered another spectacular running back on his roster to replace the incredible Mr. Shon Greene. Candidates this fall include Jewel Hampton, Paki O’Meara, Jeff Brinson and Sioux City sensation Brandon Wegher. The good news from 2008, other than the encouraging 9-4-0 finish and a bone-crushing bowl victory over Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks 31-10, is that the Hawkeyes found a great QB to lead the team in Ricky Stanzi. This was important following the departure of former starter Jake Christiansen. Stanzi, in turn, has a group of reliable receivers coming back in ‘09, including star TE Tony Moeaki, WR Marvin McNutt, plus a receiver with arguably the coolest combo-name in all of college football: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos! Most Iowa fans are excited about this coming season, and maybe they have a right to be. Normally, 8 returning starters on offense and 7 returning starters on defense after a 9-4-0 season are good reasons for more than standard optimism. But Iowa simply must find the antidote for stupid losses. For example, yes, Iowa found a way to beat hated rival Iowa State 17-5 last fall in Iowa City, but then lost inexplicably to Pitt by one lousy point. Then the Hawks proceeded to lose to Northwestern by 5 pts at home, to MSU by 3 points on the road, and to Illinois again by 3 points on the road. This same Iowa team then found a way to pull out a rabbit against unbeaten No. 3-ranked Penn State on national television. It’s all rather silly. And not a little bit annoying. This year the Iowa Hawkeye football schedule is going to be merciless. Yes, Northern Iowa and Arkansas State make nice punching dummies. The Hawks drop Illinois and Purdue on the conference slate. But Iowa must run the gauntlet on the road: at Penn State, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State and at Ohio State. Oh, and did I mention the road game at hated Iowa State? The ingredients are certainly there for a very successful season. A Big Ten title is not out of the question here. But if the Hawkeyes do wind up with less than 8 wins it will be because the coaching staff failed to adequately replace tailback Shon Greene and address the problem of “closing the deal”.
2008 Result: 9-4
Bakery Basket Opponent: Arkansas State
Falling Anvil Opponent: at Iowa State and then at Ohio State
Likely outcome: 8-4, 5-3

The Fighting Illini really disappointed in 2008 coming off a 9-4 season and a Rose Bowl visit in 2007 to a 5-7 result in 2008. Tough non-conference road losses to Missouri 42-52 and Western Michigan 17-23 prevented the Illini from bowl contention. In 2009 Illinois will feature 8 returning starters on offense including the most prolific passing attack in the league, led by QB Isaiha “Juice” Williams and WR Arelious Benn. The ground attack will be led by tailbacks Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford. Ron Zook’s spread formation offense features a battalion of dangerous receivers including Arelious Benn, Jeff Cumberland, Will Judson, AJ Jenkins and Chris Duvalt. Defensively, the Illini return 6 starters including tackling machine Martez Wilson. Illinois finished 9th in the Big Ten against the score allowing 27 points and over 350 yards per game. The guy handling Illinois scheduling should receive a public wedgy on campus. In non-conference play, the Illini must again confront Missouri, followed by powered sugar-coated Illinois State, and an ill-advised road matchup from hell vs. Brian Kelly’s Cincinnati Bearcats. The Illinois close the year versus the rabid rogues from Fresno State. In Big Ten play, Zook’s Illini will miss Iowa and Wisconsin, which is kind of a good thing. With Williams personally responsible for over 3,800 yards and 138 points, the Illini offense has all the firepower it needs to be great this year. The missing ingredient for Illinois' success remains to be the defensive unit, which finished 9th in the league in 2008.
2008 Result: 5-7
Bakery Basket Opponent: Illinois State
Falling Anvil Opponent: at Cincinnati (Yep. And you heard it here first.)
Likely outcome: 7-5, 5-3

Remember when the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team was ranked nationally until November 1, 2008, and then they were defeated in embarrassing fashion by Northwestern 17-24 at home in the Metrodome on national TV? What followed was a painful 5 game death spiral culminating again in defeat, this time at the hands of Big 12 opponent Kansas 21-42 in the Insight Bowl. The Gophers finished the season 7-6. It’s painful to look back and wonder how in the hell a 7-1-0 football team could fall apart and lose 5 straight football games, 3 of which were played at home and/or against substandard opponents. But with the 2008 season now safely in the rear view mirror, it’s also kind of scary to think about what this team might become now that Brewster’s Gophers enter ‘09 with the most returning starters in the league (18). The Gopher offense will be directed by 32 year old offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch who favors pro-set over spread formations. On the field the offense appears to be in great hands with star QB Adam Weber, who has a bucket load of talented targets to throw too like WRs Eric Decker, Ben Kuznia, Brandon Green and TE Jack Simmons. The running game is bolstered by the return of tailbacks DeLeon Eskridge and Shady Salamon. The big question mark has to be the Gopher defense. Former DC Ted Roof has left Minnesota for Auburn. The new DC will be Kevin Cosgrove, for whom Nebraska fans have an overwhelming amount of affection. Cosgrove will have 8 players back on the defensive unit, but minus leading tackler Deon Hightower. Key returnees include DTs Garrett Brown, Eric Small and LB Nathan Triplett. Minnesota’s recruiting classes under Brewster have been impressive so far, so it should not surprise anyone to see more contributions from younger players on offense and defense this fall. The 2009 Gopher football schedule is certainly more masculine than in years past. Air Force is the inaugural opponent for the new TCF football stadium in Minneapolis (I’d like to personally send a huge thank you University of Minnesota and it’s supporters for finally leaving that antiseptic Metrodome! May the Twins soon follow!). California will be a tough non-conference visitor to the new stadium this fall. Game outcomes against Syracuse and South Dakota State will likely be settled in the first 7 minutes of play. In Big Ten play, the Gophers must come to grips with the fact that the two weakest teams in the conference right now, Michigan and Indiana, will not be on the schedule. Normally, coming off a 7-6 season with 18 returning starters is highly encouraging in Big Ten football. Minnesota should be able to move the ball well offensively, but defensively the Gophers have to start stopping people. Minnesota will not have 4 non-conference creampuff games to help attain bowl eligibility. Instead, the Gophers must earn eligibility through Big Ten play.
2008 Result: 7-6
Bakery Basket Opponent: South Dakota State
Falling Anvil Opponent: California
Likely outcome: 7-5

Badger head coach Bret Bielema is 28-11 after 3 years at Wisconsin. Bielema badly needs a solid performance from his Badgers this fall. The bad news is that half of Wisconsin’s 22 starters are gone from the 7-6 team of a year ago, and this unfortunately includes the loss of leading rusher PJ Hill, who accounted for 1,161 rushing yards, and talented receiver Travis Beckum. Good news can be found in the return of starting QB Dustin Sherer and talented speed merchants John Clay and Zach Brown at tailback. WR David Gilreath and TE Garrett Graham both return as the leading receivers for the team, plus wideout Nick Toon is poised to have a break out season for the Badgers. The Wisconsin offensive line will again be huge, experienced and talented, so expect continued emphasis on the running game and ball control in 2009. Defensively, DC Dave Doeren has his work cut out for him with only 5 returning starters this fall. He must find a player to replace LB Jaevery McFadden who led the team in tackles. The Badger defense held opponents to 322 yards per game, which wasn’t too bad. But scoring defense knocked the Badgers to 8th in the league, giving up 25 points per game. The schedule looks pretty favorable for Wisconsin this fall. Northern Illinois and Fresno State will be tough contests, but games versus Wofford and Hawai’i will allow UW’s 2nd and 3rd string guys plenty of playing time. Someone should buy the UW scheduling manager a brewski because the Badgers miss Penn State and Illinois on the conference slate.
2008 Result: 7-6
Bakery Basket Opponent: Wofford (Yes, this is really happening.)
Falling Anvil Opponent: at Ohio State
Likely outcome: 7-5, 3-5

The Wildcats finished 5-3 in the Big Ten and 9-4 overall, and almost shocked the world in a close loss to a tough Missouri Tiger squad in the Alamo Bowl. This year Pat Fitzgerald’s squad returns 13 starters: 5 on offense and 8 on defense. Offensively there are huge shoes to fill with QB CJ Bacher, TB Tyrell Sutton and all of the best Wildcat receivers: Ross Lane, Rasheed Ward and Eric Peterman all graduated. The QB spot will likely be occupied by Mike Kafka who earned a lot of playing time last fall. Kafka is an elusive runner but the jury is still out on his passing skills. Freshman Dan Persa will certainly be on Kafka’s heels during fall practice, and freshman Evan Watkins might get a serious look as well. Jeravin Mathews and Stephen Simmons are capable replacements for Sutton at running back. WRs Andrew Brewer and Jeff Yarbrough have good hands and speed to help spread the field. Defensively, Northwestern loses three outstanding players including the team’s leading tackler, LB Prince Kwateng. Linebacker Malcolm Arrington and devastating nose tackle John Gill have also graduated. The 2009 defense will be bolstered by the return of DE Corey Wooten and LB Quentin Davie. The Wildcat secondary may be one of the most experienced in the conference with Brad Phillips, Brandon Smith and Sherrick McManis all returning. The Wildcat schedule is friendly to say the least. Northwestern misses both Ohio State and Michigan, and will play a list of easy opponents in Towson, Eastern Michigan, Syracuse. Only Miami (OH) might cause Northwestern to work up a sweat. The Wildcat schedule is so full of marshmallowy goodness that it should surprise no one to see Pat Fitzgerald’s team entering Spartan Stadium 5-1 or better on October 17. The latter half of the schedule is brutal, however, particularly the last 4 Wildcat opponents, PSU, at Iowa, at Illinois and Wisconsin.
2008 Result: 9-4
Bakery Basket Opponent: Towson (This is an abomination unto the Lawd.)
Falling Anvil Opponent: at Michigan State
Likely outcome: 6-6, 2-6

A 3-9 record in college football happens to Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern. It doesn’t happen to Michigan. In 2008, the Wolverines officially joined the company of marquee programs like Alabama, USC, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Ohio State by racking up a sub .500 season in football. Michigan’s last losing football season was in 1967, when the head coach was named “Bump”, Pontiac made the coolest cars in the world, and a guy named Johnson was in the White House. In 2008 Rich Rodriguez came on the scene in Ann Arbor and changed just about everything, except the winged helmets and the fight song. Coaches were fired, practice and workout regimes were revamped, the offense was completely changed, and many players left the team. When the smoke finally cleared, Michigan’s record string of 41 straight seasons of gridiron success was ash. The incredible streak of 33 straight bowl game appearances since 1975 also ended. Few Wolverine football fans understand how a traditional and perennial football power like Michigan could go from 9-4 and a butt whipping of power-house Florida in the Capital One Bowl January to be 3-9 a year later 10 months later.

So what happened to Michigan? Let’s review some facts: Entering into the 2008 football season, Michigan returned 2 starters from the 2007 offensive squad, which was a preseason national championship favorite. That incredibly talented ‘07 team with Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Mario Manningham, Jake Long, and Adrian Arrington finished 10th in the Big 10 in total offense (10th in yards per game and 9th in scoring)! Michigan’s 2 returning offensive starters were nominal contributors in 2007: WR Greg Mathews and TE Carson Butler. On defense, Michigan returned only 5 starters from a unit that finished 3rd in total defense (3rd in yards per game and 5th in scoring) in 2007. Michigan’s 2008 schedule was also the 17th toughest in the land. Before kickoff against Utah, preliminary indications were not encouraging.

In 2008 defense was to serve as anchor for the young, inexperienced offensive unit. Instead, the reverse was true. The Michigan offense was the anchor, and it would bust right through the hull as the UM defense tried in vain to bail out the incoming water with a spoon. Injuries plagued the UM backfield almost to a man. Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan, Brandon Minor, Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw and Carlos Brown were all hurt repeatedly during the season, missing several games, and rarely at 100% health. The offensive line was inexperienced and playing a game of musical chairs with the coaches to find the right fit. To make matters even worse, the Wolverine football team seemed determined to find new ways to turn the ball over and make critical mistakes that placed the UM defense into the most precarious of circumstances possible week after week. Michigan’s offense was perpetually stuck in reverse, averaging a conference low 20 points per game and 290 yards per game total offense. Michigan’s 3rd down success rate was the worst in the league at 27%, placing it in the elaborate company nationally of teams like Toledo (3-9) and Tennessee (5-7).

The Michigan defensive unit, on its 3rd defensive coordinator in just 4 years, played predictably awful. While the Wolverines finished second in the league with 29 sacks in 2008, it gave up an astonishing 29 pts (10th in the Big Ten) and 367 yards per game (9th in the Big Ten). With jaw-dropping defeats to Toledo by a missed FG at home and a 35 point loss to hated rival Ohio State in the Horseshoe, it’s difficult to imagine things getting much worse for Michigan.

2009 holds some measure of promise, however. First, Rich Rodriguez has demonstrated (at least historically) a positive record in year 2 of almost every coaching assignment he has ever had. Rodriguez has managed to land 2 straight solid recruiting classes for the Wolverines in 2008 and 2009. Rodriguez also successfully signed UM’s first class of new preferred walk-on players for the 2009 season, which should help fill out the roster. In 2009 Michigan returns 10 starters on offense and 5 on defense. While UM fans should expect another year of excruciatingly inconsistent play at QB, “inconsistent” should be a major step upward from 2008. As for the quarterback position, 4-star freshman recruit Tate Forcier from San Diego, CA, is the likely starter under center. Forcier has good foot speed, excellent field vision, and surprising throwing accuracy. He enrolled in January and should have a solid grasp of the offense by fall practice in August. The other QB for Michigan might be another freshman, Denard Robinson, who possesses the foot speed of Marvel comic characters, and excellent throwing credentials from operating a spread offense in high school at Deerfield Beach, FL. Veteran UM QB Nick Sheridan also returns to compete in the fall. The entire Wolverine offensive line returns and should play considerably better, with greater depth, experience and competition than ever before as each UM OL player must learn to play multiple positions. The Wolverine backfield is quite good with Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Michael Shaw all returning, and a talented crop of underclassmen behind them. Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Greg Mathews, Kevin Koger and JR Hemingway bless the Wolverines with both speed and good hands at receiver positions.

As previously stated, defensively Michigan will have its 4th defensive coordinator in 5 years in Greg Robinson. Robinson was the former HC at Syracuse, and was a successful DC at both UCLA and the Denver Broncos. The Wolverines return leading tackler Jonas Mouton at LB as well as All-Big Ten candidates DE Brandon Graham and LB Obi Ezeh, and senior Stevie Brown moving from safety to LB. The Michigan secondary played poorly in 2008, but has some experience returning with Donovan Warren, Michael Williams and Boubacar Cissoko. Troy Woolfolk and the two freshman Vlad Emilien and Justin Turner are likely to see early action.

Western Michigan and Notre Dame will be tough non-conference opponents, but both face Michigan in the Big House. Eastern Michigan and Delaware State should serve as confidence-building wins. In conference play, missing Northwestern and Minnesota probably doesn’t advance Michigan’s cause very much. To become bowl eligible Michigan must find a way to dramatically reduce turnovers, improve special teams play, not to mention score an incredible amount of points just to keep a thin defensive unit off the field. The lack of depth and experience at quarterback, DL, LB and secondary are all worrisome combinations that don’t bode well for Rodriguez in year 2. However, there should be just enough talent and experience offensively that the Michigan team can fully concentrate on defeating opponents on Saturday afternoon, rather than defeating itself. As fragile as the Michigan team might be this fall, opponents would be wise not to take the Wolverines too lightly.
2008 Result: 3-9
Bakery Basket Opponent: Delaware State
Falling Anvil Opponent: Notre Dame, at Wisconsin
Likely outcome: 7-5, 4-4

Indiana finished 1-7 in conference play and 3-9 overall in 2008. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to imagine Bill Lynch’s 2009 squad improving on that result. On the positive side, Indiana returns 16 starters for 2009, 8 on offense and 8 on defense. Defensively, a cast of good players return, including DEs Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton and Ryan Marrando and leading tackler on the team LB Matt Mayberry. The secondary is fortified with the experience of CB Chris Adkins, FS Joe Kleinsmith. Indiana gave up an embarrassing 35 points and over 432 yards per game, but the defense should improve with a year of more experience under its belt. Offensively, however, Lynch has to be concerned. Starting QB Kellen Lewis, who passed for 1131 yards, 6 TDs, 8 INTs and rushed for 500 more, has been kicked off the football team. Tailback Marcus Thigpen, who led the team in rushing with 631 yards and 7 TDs has graduated. Replacing Thigpen will be a running back-by-committee arrangement using the services of Bryan Payton and Demetrius McCray. The all-important quarterback role in the Hoosier spread offense will be manned by Ben Chappell, who also passed for over 1000 yards, threw 3 TDs, 4 INTs and rushed for 3 TDs himself last year. The non-conference schedule offers the Hoosiers little relief. Eastern Kentucky and Akron are probable wins, but cue the scary music once Western Michigan and Virginia come on deck. The Hoosiers do not play Michigan State or Minnesota. Indiana is going to show some slight improvement defensively in 2009 given their increased experience along the DL and secondary. Offensively, I expect the Hoosiers to play at least as well as last year with Chappell under center. I do think Indiana will beat rival Purdue in Bloomington come November, but that may not be enough for Lynch and staff to keep their jobs.
2008 Result: 3-9
Bakery Basket Opponent: Eastern Kentucky
Falling Anvil Opponent: at Penn State
Likely outcome: 3-9, 1-8

Dan Hope takes over for Joe Tiller as head coach of the Purdue Boilermakers in 2009.
Purdue finished 2-6 in conference play and 4-8 overall in Tiller’s final season. Tiller didn’t leave the cupboard bare, but the Boilermakers do lose a lot of fire power with only 5 starters returning offensively. Hope must somehow make do without the services of QB Curtis Painter, TB Kory Sheets and WR Greg Orton. Joey Elliott is the heir apparent at QB while Caleb TerBush and Justin Siller may serve as capable backups. The absence of Sheets at running back provides opportunity for talented Jaycen Taylor (recovering from knee injury), Ralph Bolden and freshman Al-Terek McBurse to deliver the mail. WRs Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin are fast and dangerous targets that produce well in games. Defensively, Purdue returns 7 starters including LBs Joe Holland and Chris Carlino. The Purdue secondary may be one of the most experienced and eldest in the Big Ten with 4 senior starters returning, including Dwight McLean, Torri Williams, David Pender and Brandon King as starters. The Boilermaker schedule is a mixed bag of sadomasochism. Sure, the Boilermakers open up versus Toledo in Ross-Ade Stadium. But then some numbskull went and scheduled Oregon, Northern Illinois and Notre Dame in succession. Purdue successfully dodges both Penn State and Iowa in conference play.. The interesting observation will be Purdue’s play down the stretch and whether the team can avoid key injuries. Tiller’s finale as Purdue head coach came in the form of a 62-10 drubbing of their rival, the Indiana Hoosiers, in West Lafayette for the Old Oaken Bucket. That humiliation is unlikely to stand.
2008 Result: 4-8
Bakery Basket Opponent: Toledo
Falling Anvil Opponent: at Indiana
Likely outcome: 2-10, 0-8

It hath been foretold!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Big Ten Football Predictions for 2009 (An Intro)

In the coming weeks I will posting predictions for each Big Ten football team for the 2009 season. I'm finishing up quite a bit of research of each team, including a full review 2008 results, 2009 schedules, starting lineups, returning starters, and offensive and defensive team statistics.

From just a cursory level of research, and by combining a couple of factors, I wanted to share some information and results that I found intersting so far. I don't think it's conclusive. It's really just a couple of pieces to a larger puzzle of the upcoming Big Ten football season. These variables won't make much sense by themselves until they get pieced together within a meaningful equation.

Again, I will post a more detailed team-by-team Big Ten football summary analysis for 2009 shortly which I hope readers will find interesting.

2009 Best Big Ten Offenses
Iowa (7 returning starters), 30 pts game, 373 yards game, returning QB
Illinois (7 returning starts), 29 pts game, 439 yards game, returning QB
Wisconsin (6 returning starters), 29 pts game, 405 yards game, returning QB
Penn State (5 returning starters), 40 pts game, 452 yards game, returning QB

2009 Best Big Ten Defenses:
Iowa (7 returning starters), 13 pts game, 290 yards game,
Penn State (7 returning starters), 12 pts game, 264 yards game
Ohio State (7 returning starters, 13 pts game, 279 yards game

Big Ten Teams Improving Offensively- Team returns both best QB and best RB plus has 6 or more offensive starters returning:

Big Ten Teams Struggling Offensively - Team loses best QB and RB plus has 6 or fewer offensive starters returning:
Michigan State

Big Ten Teams Improving Defensively - Team returns best tackler plus has 6 or more defensive starters returning:
Michigan State

Big Ten Teams Struggling Defensively - Team loses best tackler plus has 6 or fewer starters returning:

Big Ten Teams Losing a 1,000 yard rusher to graduation or NFL:
Ohio State (Beanie Wells)
Michigan State (Javon Ringer)
Iowa (Shon Greene)
Wisconsin (PJ Hill)
Purdue (Kory Sheets)

Big Ten Teams Returning a 1,000 yard rusher:
Penn State (Evan Royster)

Big Ten Teams Losing Starting QB:
Michigan State (Bryan Hoyer)
Northwestern (CJ Bacher)
Purdue (Curtis Painter)
Michigan (Steven Threet)
Indiana (Kellen Lewis)

Big Ten Teams Returning Starting QB:
Illinois (Juice Williams)
Iowa (Ricky Stanzi)
Minnesota (Adam Weber)
Ohio State (Terrell Pryor)
Penn State (Darryl Clark)
Wisconsin (Dustin Sherer)

Michigan doesn't pop up much with the above criteria and, in my view, this doesn't bode too well for the Wolverines for the 2009 campaign. On the other hand, if pieces do fall into place this season in only a few areas (QB, special teams, turnovers and defense), Michigan could be a surprise team. More later.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Academic Performance Rates Released for Big Ten Football Programs

The Academic Performance Rates of NCAA athletic programs have been released, including college football programs. The NCAA appears to be kicking ass and taking names. Just ask Minnesota, Mississippi or Montana State football progams.

College football coaches either deliver good academic performance, or pay they're going to pay the price.

The NCAA grades teams athlete by athlete, awarding one APR point per semester for staying at the school and another for maintaining academic eligibility. The association has determined that programs should hit 92.5% of their possible total, an APR of 925 that it says projects a 60% graduation rate.

Teams falling beneath a 925 are subject to initial scholarship cuts. Those falling beneath 900 face a stricter sequence of penalties: a warning the first year, scholarship and practice-time cuts the second year, postseason sanctions the third year and the school's relegation to restricted NCAA membership the fourth year.

To escape, a team must show "meaningful improvement" in its APR, plus meet at least one of three additional criteria: have a projected graduation rate better than that of the school's overall student body, prove a lack of resources or post an APR that's better than the bottom 10% of all teams in that sport.

As far as Big Ten football is concerned, Minnesota got nailed with 3 scholarship losses this year. Purdue, scoring a 926 APR, escaped sanctions by a butthair.

The two best teams on the Big Ten gridiron last fall, Penn State and Ohio State, demonstrated the top two APR scores in the conference respectively.

The Yield from Michigan's 2006 Recruiting Class

In late December of 2005 the Michigan Wolverines wrapped up one of the most frustrating football seasons in recent memory. Michigan started out the season 3-3, rattled off 4 straight victories, then suffered 2 bone-crushing losses to Ohio State 21-25 in Ann Arbor and 28-32 in the appropriately-named Alamo Bowl to Bill Callahan's Nebraska Cornhuskers 28-32. Michigan finished the year 7-5-0.

When the 2006 Wolverine recruiting class was signed in February of 2006, there was considerably optimism. In the Big Ten, Penn State had landed the best class (ranked 6th nationally by, but Michigan had landed the second best (ranked 9th nationally by Defensive consistency was the Achilles' heel of this Michigan team, giving away leads and big plays in the 3rd and 4th quarters of these 5losses. As a result, the Wolverines dismissed Jim Herrmann as the defensive coordinator at season's end. Former secondary coach Ron English would be taking over for the 2006 season.

20 players signed on to the 2006 Michigan football recruiting class. There were 12 defensive players and 8 offensive players. According to recruit tracking, half of Michigan's '06 class was considered top caliber talent. The Wolverines landed five 5 star players and five 4 star players. Seven UM players received 3-star ratings, and the remaining players had 2-star ratings. Also, 13 of the 20 signees were ranked in the top 40 in the nation at their respective position. All told, this was a fine class for the future of the Maize and Blue.

As we fast forward to 2009 and the upcoming final season for many of these 2006 signees, we observe some very interesting results.

Of the 20 players signed by Michigan, 6 players (0ne-third of the entire class) either left the Michigan football team or were dismissed from it. This staggering number of flame outs in the was similar in many ways to the disasterous 2005 recruiting class, which ironically finished 2nd in the nation behind the No. 1 ranked Tennessee class.

2006 Flame Outs & Departures:

Marques Slocum DT 5 star No. 4 DT
Dismissed from team. Did not qualify academically

Justin Boren OT 5 star No. 7 OL
Left team pre-2008 season for Ohio State.

Cobrani Mixon LB 4 star No. 30 LB
Left team in 2006. Today plays LB at Kent State.

Quintin Patilla LB 3 star No. 58 LB
Left team pre-2008 season. Today plays LB at GVSU

Jason Kates DT 2 star NR DT.
Left team in after 2008 season.

Quintin Woods DE 2 star NR DE
Did not qualify at UM in 2007.
Played JC level (Bakersfield College?). Today signed with KU Jayhawks to play DE.

Of the 14 players that remained from the 2006 Michigan football recruiting class, only 8 have earned "starting positions" entering the 2009 campaign:

Steve Schilling OG 5 star No. 3 OL

Brandon Graham DE 5 star No. 3 DE

Jonas Mouton S 5 star No. 6 Safety

Stevie Brown CB 4 star No. 10 Cornerback

Brandon Minor RB 4 star No. 29 RB

Greg Mathews WR 3 star No. 39 WR

Obi Ezeh LB 3 star No. 72 LB

Brandon Graham is a very probable All-Big Ten Candidate at DE for Michigan

Perhaps 8 out of 20 is not such a bad recruiting yield afterall? With multiple coaching changes at both head coach and coordinator levels, as well as several academic qualification issues, perhaps Michigan should call itself "lucky". Unlike 2008, many of the 8 listed players above are genuine candidates for All-Big Ten honors for the 2009 season, particularly Schilling, Graham, Mathews and possibly Brandon Minor and Obi Ezeh as well.

Hopefully the 2006 recruiting class - many of them seniors this fall playing in their final games -will have a fine season for Michigan in 2009.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Big Ten's Eventual Expansion to 12 Teams

The Big Ten Conference consists today of 11 universities:

Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State

Eleven teams is an odd configuration. In college football, each Big Ten teams plays 8 conference games and 4 non-conference games. This means Big Ten teams miss at least 2 conference opponents on their schedule in any given year. The odd configuration does not allow the Big Ten to be divided into even divisions, nor does it allow for a conference title game at season's end. Adding a 12th team would even things out in the Big Ten and allow for the revenues a conference title game would afford.

Positives of Adding a 12th team

The main benefit of adding a 12th team would be to even out the Big Ten Conference into 2 divisions, and provided for a 13th football game the first week of December to decide the conference champion. A 12th team might also allow for an extra 9th conference game, with 3 non-conference games. The new 12-team Big Ten conference football schedule would likely still involve "missing" two conference opponents each season, unless the league wished to play 10 conference games and 2 non-conference games. This is possible to organize, but most Big Ten teams and coaches would be against it since no other 12-team football conference runs such a gauntlet.

Another positive of adding a 12th team for the Big Ten might be in securing more regional strategic advantage in recruiting. Depending on the caliber of the 12th team, recruiting competition would likely increase tremendously for all Big Ten teams in that region, and also for any Big Ten opponents in that same region, i.e. Big East, MAC and Independents will find increased competition as Big Ten conference schools wade in their territory for more athletes.

Adding a 12th team in football would probably increase the Big Ten's competitiveness in post season play. Traditionally, the Big Ten conference has to have one of the worst post-season records in all of college football. There are many factors that might contribute to this poor performance in bowl games. One obvious factor is the absence of a 13th game in Big Ten play. Other schools practice an additional week for their conference title game. At the BCS-level games, the Big Ten conference football teams do not get this extra week and extra game of preparedness.

Finally, adding a 12th team would likely aid not only football, but also other marquee, money-generating athletics like basketball to a strengthen the conference's power in national competition both on the field and with recruiting.

Drawbacks of Adding a 12th team
The cost of adding a 12th team might include sacrificing some tradition in scheduling. If the Big Ten were divided into North and South divisions, it's possible that for an 9 game conference schedule, some traditional rivalries would have to be forgone. One need only look to the Big 12 where Nebraska and Oklahoma were instructed to play in two separate divisions. The season-ending rivalry game disappeared, the teams meet occassionally during mid-season of the schedule, and the Cornhusker-Sooner rivalry has all but died. Interestingly, Oklahoma's other major rival, Texas, plays in the same division as OU (South) and plays the Sooners every year without exception. The UT-OU rivalry has always been one of the nation's best in college football, but it's reached white-hot levels in the Big 12 over the last 10 years.

Situations like Nebraska-Oklahoma could be overcome by intentionally scheduling such rivalry games each year in the Big Ten, such as Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State and Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan-Michigan State, even if the two teams might meet a second time in the conference title game. At the same time, it's entirely possible that previous Big Ten rivalries might "die on the vine".

Nebraska vs. Oklahoma. Great Rivalry Successfully Destroyed By the Big 12 Conference.

Another drawback might be that any new 12th team may not be as attractive academically, or athletically in other sports besides football. Any additional 12th team must add significant value to the Big Ten conference as a whole. The new school should also be a natural fit from a proximity and regional point of view.

Oh God. Here we go. There are many candidates for a 12th Big Ten team. Very few make sense from an athletic tradition and regional proximity point of view. Some candidates make an incredible amount of sense, but are just not going to happen....ever.

I will discuss below several candidates for the 12th team, why they make sense, why they don't and the likelihood of them joining the Big Ten to form a new "Big Ten + 2 Conference".

1.) The Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Why Notre Dame Makes Sense:
You cannot talk about a 12th team for the Midwest-centric Big Ten without mentioning Notre Dame. There is a massive amount of athletic tradition at Notre Dame on the gridiron, on the basketball court and in athletics as a whole. Two other Big Ten schools reside in Indiana (Indiana U. and Purdue). Why not Notre Dame?

In football, the Fighting Irish are all but a Big Ten team, scheduling regular season contests against Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue (and curiously none against Indiana!?). Notre Dame's athletic tradition and the midwest location of South Bend make the Fighting Irish not only a natural candidate, but a preferred choice.

Why Notre Dame Doesn't Make Sense:
Because Notre Dame doesn't want anyone telling them what to do. Want examples? In basketball, Notre Dame is part of the Big East conference. In football, Notre Dame is an independent, right alongside 2 other remaining independents Army and Navy. Secondly, the Irish have a large national following, including their own lucrative and directly negotiated TV contracts with NBC for football. Assuming Notre Dame football earns bowl eligibility, the Irish get paid a pretty penny for bowl appearances. Although the Big Ten conference has been rather weak in football in recent years, Notre Dame would be up against increased competition each season. That said, Notre Dame is 58-36-1 vs. the Big Ten since 1978 (.616). If past performance is any indicator of future results, the likelihood of bowl eligibility as a member of the Big Ten might very well increase for the Irish. However, the good news about not being bowl eligible when you're affiliated with an athletic conference is that your school receives some of the spoils that Penn State earned in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State earned in the Fiesta Bowl. As an Independent, unless you earn it yourself by getting bowl eligible, you don't get jack.

Likelihood Notre Dame Joins the Big Ten?
Never. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will never join the Big Ten, so let's just remove any such thought from our brains and move on to the next candidate, shall we?

2.) The Pittsburgh Panthers

Why Pitt Makes Sense:
Penn State is already in the Big Ten. The next logical choice, if not Notre Dame, has got to be Pitt. Pittsburgh fields a respectable athletic program in all sports, but especially football and basketball. There is a long dormant rivalry between Pitt and Penn State that would be recharged by Pitt's introduction. Pitt is regionally proximate to the other schools and would increase Big Ten football and basketball recruiting success in the talent-rich states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.

Why Pitt Doesn't Make Sense:
Pittsburgh's football program has lost it's luster considerably since the early 1980s and has had difficulty recovering. Penn State's program has outgrown them and performed far better nationally than the Panthers have. Then Pitt joined the Big East and sunk further into mediocrity, making mini-regional rivalries become more important such as the matchup with conference foe West Virginia. Pitt's basketball success in recent years has been noteworthy and it will be interesting to see whether it can continue given the high level of competition in the Big East.

Likelihood Pitt Joins the Big Ten?
Of all of the available and realistic candidates, Pitt really does make the most sense and should join the Big Ten conference.

3.) The Syracuse Orangemen

Why Syracuse Makes Sense:
Regionally proximiate. Strong basketball tradition. Some good football history (Art Monk, Bill Hurley, Joe Morris, Donovan McNabb) , although, aside from a major upset of Notre Dame last year, Syracuse has been the armpit of college football. Syracuse has played a few intersectional games with Big Ten opponents over the years like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa, but there are no established mini-rivalries, not even in basketball. Syracuse' success in football and basketball could change if they joined a more competitive conference than the Big East. In the case of joining the Big Ten, Syracuse's basketball fortunes would likely improve while their football wins would likely decline.

Why Syracuse Doesn't Make Sense:
Athletically speaking, Syracuse' relevance in athletics is limited to basketball (until Jim Boeheim retires). The Syracuse Orangemen are today part of the Big East, and from this blogger's point of view are way better served in that conference. Syracuse offers the Big Ten very little value in terms of athletics, academics. Syracuse is about as regionally proximate as Pitt to other Big Ten teams. The other problem with Syracuse is their football venue, the Carrier Dome. The Big Ten finally rid itself of the MetroDome in Minneapolis. Any addition of Syracuse should include a clause demanding that a proper, modern, outdoor facility be constructed for Syracuse football.

From a recruiting standpoint, the addition of Syracuse doesn't necessarily add any new recruiting grounds or strengthen existing regional recruiting pipelines for the Big Ten.

Likelihood Syracuse Joins the Big Ten:
In my view, the Big Ten conference is better off with 11 teams than adding a Syracuse. Likelihood is very low, or just a few percentage points above zero.

4. Rutgers

Why Rutgers Makes Sense:
Rutgers doesn't make sense. The schools is based in East Rutherford, NJ and close to NY city. There are few if any rivalries or connections in athletics, aside from some games played against Penn State in the distant past.

Why Rutgers Doesn't Make Sense:
Rutgers is an eastern, coastal school and really does belong in the Big East in terms of football. Rutgers is not proximate to any Big Ten schools, aside from Penn State.In basketball, well, does Rutgers even play basketball?

Likelihood Rutgers joins the Big Ten?
A few percentage points below Notre Dame ever joining, which means never. Rutgers is in the Big East conference. Right where they belong.

4. The Missouri Tigers

Why Missouri Makes Sense:
Wait a minute. The Missouri Tigers belong to the Big 12, don't they? What the....?

Well, yes they do. But Missouri has always been the red-headed step child when they were part of the Big 8 and even today as member of the Big 12 North division. Nobody liked them. And Missouri certainly didn't like anybody else either. During the 1970s and 1980s, Big 8 powers Oklahoma and Nebraska sweated bullets when they faced the Missouri Tigers on the gridiron. Actually, of all the candidates listed so far none provide quite the complete athletic package of both strong football and basketball programs and traditions that Missouri does. The Tigers are bitchin' in both. Columbia is regionally proximiate to most Big Ten schools, and offers opponents tough venues in football and basketball. In college football, Missouri's program has been on the rise recently while playing in a tough conference (Big 12). In basketball, Missouri remains a respectable and competitive force. The Tigers have an existing non-conference rivalry with the Fighting Illini of the Big Ten.

Why Missouri Doesn't Make Sense:
Two main arguments against Missouri:
1.) Missouri is already part of Big 12 and
2.) Distance.

In reverse order, the Tigers campus is 240 miles south of Iowa City, and some Big Ten traditionalists might say that's just too far away for the Penn State's, Ohio State's and Michigan's to travel. I disagree.

Minneapolis, Minnesota is 830 miles from State College, PA. Columbia, MO is 778 miles from State College, PA. Nittany Lions and Gopher fans travel well. So do Missouri Tiger fans. Distance is not an big issue.

And first, Missouri has it's Big 8-based "Border War" rivalry with Kansas. Missouri also has it's intersectional hatreds for Oklahoma and Nebraska as well. Missouri is part of the Big 12 and fits nicely in the Big 8ish North Division. But Missouri could continue such rivalries in non-conference play as a member of the Big Ten. Also, the Big 12 can easily add good, regional programs from the state of Texas to replace a Missouri such as SMU, TCU, Houston or Rice. Even Utah, BYU and Colorado State come to mind here as meaningful replacements. The Big 12 would not want to lose Missouri. But if the choice were open to the Missouri Tigers, I think they might pounce on it.

Likelihood Missouri Joins the Big Ten:
If Pitt were the most likely to join and Notre Dame is the least likely to join, then I would put Missouri in second place behind Pitt in terms of all candidates.

5.) The Iowa State Cyclones

Why Iowa State Makes Sense:
They have a good basketball tradition and an annual rivalry with Iowa.
They are regionally proximate and low risk.

Why Iowa State Doesn't Make Sense:
Iowa State is a small university and athletically hasn't had much to crow about since Earle Bruce left town in 1979. Their value-add to the Big Ten is nominal and would be equivalent to adding another Minnesota-level athletic program to the conference.

Likelihood Iowa State joins the Big Ten:
Probably never, but much more likely than a Rutgers, Notre Dame or a Syracuse.

Other candidates and some quick notes:

Boston College:
I like this school very much. It's got a decent athletic program history, is part of the ACC, and has good academics. It's also got some minor history with Big Ten teams like Penn State and Michigan on the gridiron. The academic upside is high. The athletic upside is nominal.

Marquette University:
No football program. And that's a shame. I will always call these guys the Warriors. We don't need any more "Eagles" mascot teams for crying out loud. In basketball, the Marquette Golden Eagles would be an outstanding addition to the Big Ten. In football, well they'd offer the Big Ten zero, unless Marquette brought their football program back from the dead. Not that I don't believe Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin is too small a football market, but it's risky. Indiana can somehow miraculously support 3 Division 1A college teams, and Wisconsin can't? Whatever.

Good basketball school. Improved football program over the last several years. Regionally proximate as Kentucky borders southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

The Big Ten should add a 12th team. The conference should do all it can to preserve the intersectional rivalries of Purdue-Indiana, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Penn State-Ohio State. The Big Ten conference should also do what it can to promote new rivalries. The best candidate for the Big Ten expansion is Pittsburgh. The second best candidate is Missouri. The least likely candidates are Notre Dame and Rutgers.