I’m sad, you’re sad and everyone is sad that college football is over. Another year flew by us, and now, a long offseason awaits.
But before we look ahead to 2019 and make a bunch of predictions, I thought it would be a fitting time to recap some things that we learned about 2018. After all, we didn’t know everything.
So yes, while some of these things could’ve been predicted, we at least saw them come to fruition in 2018.
Here are 18 things we learned about the B1G this year:
1. P.J. Fleck rowing in the right direction
I questioned that for awhile. In fact, I wrote after Nebraska steamrolled Minnesota for its first B1G win of the Scott Frost era that it was fair to start questioning if Fleck was really going to be the guy at Minnesota. It was an 0-4 start to B1G play, during which the Gophers hadn’t stayed within 15 points of anyone. But credit to Fleck because that finish to the season was loud.
Not only did Fleck win 3 of Minnesota’s final 4 games, he brought Paul Bunyan’s Axe back to Minnesota for the first time since 2003 (and in convincing fashion). Actually, all 3 of Minnesota’s wins to end the season had the following things:
- Margin of at least 22 points
- Score 34 points
- Beat bowl team
That’s pretty amazing considering the Gophers were putting up Rutgers-like numbers through that Nebraska loss. With plenty of key pieces returning, Minnesota suddenly looks like it’ll be a factor in the West in 2019.
2. We (I) jumped the gun with Wisconsin
Man, did I ever. My worst preseason call of the year was predicting a Playoff berth for Wisconsin. I said all offseason that I had more confidence in the Badgers than Ohio State partially because of how good I thought that line would be (which it was) blocking for Jonathan Taylor. By the way, Taylor is still amazing.
Jonathan Taylor. 80 yards. Untouched.
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) November 17, 2018
That part wasn’t the issue. It was injuries on the defensive side and the lack of development/a less-than-100 percent Alex Hornibrook.
Sure, Wisconsin blew out Miami (FL) and clinched its eighth win, but everyone thought Paul Chryst’s floor was much higher than the Pinstripe Bowl. Nobody thought that team would get dominated by Minnesota at home, or that they’d lose to a team like BYU. Taylor back will still make Wisconsin a contender, but they’re a decent amount from Playoff form.
3. This ain’t your older brother’s B1G West
One of the byproducts of Wisconsin not being Wisconsin was that the West was suddenly wide open. Northwestern took advantage of that and earned the program’s first B1G Championship berth. But heading into November, it looked like anyone’s division with Purdue and Iowa also in the mix. While Wisconsin didn’t live up to its Playoff potential, the end of season certainly favored the division. The West went 4-1 in bowl season. That doesn’t include Nebraska’s late-season surge. Few divisions will be more interesting in 2019 than the West. And hey, the East only had an 11-10 advantage in crossover matchups this year.
4. Nebraska had to crawl before it could walk
Man, it was a rough start for the Huskers. The worst start in program history was fueled by undisciplined play, devastating close losses and just bad open-field tackling. But once the Huskers got on the board against Minnesota in late-October, you could see the wheels turning. All the hype of the beginning of the Scott Frost era started to take shape again because of how prolific they were offensively in the second half. A 4-2 finish with 1-possession road losses to top-25 teams in Ohio State and Iowa was nothing to scoff at.
5. Iowa is a tight end factory unlike any in America
Remember that time when Iowa had a preseason All-American tight end in Noah Fant and the second-string guy ended up winning the John Mackey Award for the best tight end in football? Unreal. And Fant actually had a really solid year with 519 receiving yards and 7 touchdown catches. Iowa’s tight end duo led the team in receiving yards (1,236) and touchdowns (13), which is obviously extremely rare.
That coincided with the breakout second season from former Iowa tight end George Kittle, who set the NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,377). Including C.J.Fiedorowicz, Iowa is going to have a 6-year stretch of 4 tight ends drafted (assuming Hockenson leaves). That’s incredible for the future recruiting of that position.
6. Jeff Brohm isn’t just a 2-year wonder, which is bad news for Tom Allen
You knew the time was gonna come when Brohm was going to have to decide if he was going to leave West Lafayette for Louisville. That time came at the end of this year, but surprisingly, Brohm elected to stay at Purdue. Boilermaker fans were ecstatic, and despite the blowout bowl loss, the future is bright.
That’s not ideal for Indiana. Why? Brohm is in position to sign a top-25 class — that hasn’t happened at Purdue in 15 years — that’s headlined by the top 2 recruits in the state of Indiana. That’s supposed to be Allen’s wheelhouse. Don’t get me wrong. Allen also just accomplished a historic feat himself.
Before yesterday, IU had never signed multiple recruits from the same class who ranked among the top 5 in the state of Indiana.
On Wednesday, Tom Allen signed 3 of them.
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) December 20, 2018
But Brohm is off to a 2-0 start against Allen, both of which were bowl-or-bust games for them. And clearly, that train isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
7. Michigan is on a high level, just not on Ohio State’s level
I know what you’re thinking, Ohio State fans.
“We didn’t learn this in 2018.”
Well you know what, when Michigan is favored to win in Columbus, that’s not the same old story. The result was the same old story, but Michigan’s regular season wasn’t that. At all. Beating 3 straight ranked teams, winning 10 straight games and being in the final 4 heading into the final week of the regular season is something.
But man, getting beat like that in Columbus for yet another loss was certainly a tough pill to swallow this year. Michigan still can’t hang with Ohio State at the line of scrimmage, and it continues to be a notch worse at the game’s most important position.
When will the Wolverines finally get there?
8. James Franklin’s in-game calls are…not great
“Hate” is a strong word. I try not to use it often. But I absolutely hated some of the in-game calls that the Penn State coach made this year. My biggest gripe was that in the two most important spots of the year — 4th down against Ohio State and Kentucky — he took the ball out of Trace McSorley’s hands. One of which was to run a handoff on 4th and 5, and the other was to kick a field goal in a 6-point game.
Lions fans know that Franklin can recruit extremely well and he’s a great face of the program. But he showed in 2018 that he can get in his head too often in key spots, and it certainly hurt the Lions’ ability to maximize their potential.
9. DJ Durkin? Not the best guy
So if there was a black eye on the B1G’s image this year, it was what went down with the Jordan McNair/DJ Durkin story. And yes, despite what Maryland officials tried to tell you, a player dying from a May workout and a coach with a “bullying” culture are clearly connected.
Durkin was put on administrative leave after ESPN’s report revealed he did things like verbally abuse players and make them watch horror movies while eating as “motivation.” Yeah, that’s strange, and so was Durkin.
Baffling it was that Maryland tried to let the dust settle and bring Durkin back after the internal investigation. That lasted roughly a day before the Terps realized that was a horrible, horrible decision that public opinion would never support. A bizarre story defined a tumultuous year in College Park.
10. Rondale Moore and K.J. Hamler are going to be things for the next 2 years
We knew that Moore and Hamler came in as highly-touted receivers. What we didn’t know was how good they were going to be as true freshman. As we learned, they were really, really good. Go figure that a couple of 5-9 freshmen would take the league by storm. Obviously Moore was a bit more of the national name, especially after he torched Ohio State.
— FanNewsClips (@FanNewsClips) October 21, 2018
Hamler was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, which Moore won. As a true freshman. Yeah, that idea of tackling these guys in space for the next 2 years has to be a daunting thought for B1G defenses.
11. Michigan State isn’t ready to stay as a top-10 program
I’ll be honest. I thought the Spartans were overrated coming into the season because of how many close games they won the year before. Yes, they had a higher percentage of returning production than any team in America. That was coming off a 10-win season, and as a result, there was preseason buzz about the Spartans as a top-10 team and even a Playoff contender.
The Spartans were fantastic defensively, but their offense was stuck in the mud all year. They lacked an identity on that side of the ball, which came to a head when they didn’t score a touchdown in the Redbox Bowl. MSU faced 11 Power 5 teams and they scored 20 points just 5 times. They averaged just 8 points per game in their final 4 contests.
MSU has major issues to fix on that side of the ball, which won’t be easy to do with how good the East figures to be again in 2019.
12. Ryan Day is ready for the big-time
What a rise its been for Day, who came to Ohio State in 2017 as this no-name NFL assistant. He quickly became a key asset to the program, which had well-respected minds in Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson. The Buckeyes still gave him a considerable raise and ultimately went with him as the interim coach during Meyer’s suspension to start the year. The fact that Day went 3-0 with dominant offensive showings in each contest certainly helped him land the full-time gig at season’s end. Not bad for someone who was a fired NFL quarterbacks coach a couple years ago.
13. There is a new low for Rutgers
Just when we thought the Scarlet Knights were making some headway on the massive rebuild, they somehow got even worse. Woof. Going 1-11 with the lone win coming to a 3-win Sun Belt team is bad, even for Rutgers. The amazing thing was that after that game, Rutgers didn’t score more than 17 points once. Not once! They had the worst offense in America, which wasn’t completely the product of having a true freshman quarterback.
If you know a Rutgers fan, just give them a hug. They need it.
14. Lovie Smith is at least making some progress
Speaking of B1G cellar dwellers, Illinois finally played like it deserved to be called a Power 5 team. Kind of? Hey, 4 wins was a new high for Smith. But what Illini fans are more optimistic about is the talent Smith added since the season ended. The following players are all set to join the team in 2019:
- 4-star 2019 CB Marquez Beason
- 4-star 2019 QB Isaiah Williams
- 4-star 2019 LB Shammond Cooper
- Miami WR transfer Jeff Thomas
- Georgia TE transfer Luke Ford
- Oklahoma WR transfer A.D. Miller
Smith is starting to land some of the big-time talent that he talked about getting when he was hired back in 2016. Perhaps Year 4 will finally yield that first bowl berth.
15. Dwayne Haskins is an all-time B1G great
There’s a new B1G single-season record holder in pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. As we found out in 2018, Haskins is pretty good at football. We knew that entering the year, but seeing him have arguably the best single-season performance ever for a B1G quarterback confirmed Meyer’s declaration that he was “the most talented quarterback he’d ever recruited.”
Haskins probably wins the Heisman Trophy most years. Instead, he settled for third with a B1G Championship and a Rose Bowl win in his lone season as the starter. Not bad. Next up for Haskins? Become the first B1G quarterback since 1995 to get drafted in the first round.
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 8, 2019
16. Adrian Martinez is on his way to a special career
The two revelations at the quarterback position in the B1G were Haskins and Martinez. What Martinez did in his true freshman season at Nebraska shouldn’t be overlooked. No, it wasn’t on the level of Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, but Martinez’s numbers were darn impressive:
- 65% accuracy
- 2,617 passing yards
- 3,235 yards from scrimmage
- 25 total touchdowns
Keep in mind that was in basically 9.5 games this year. With a full offseason and possibly 13 games, Martinez is going to stuff the stat sheet even more. But besides numbers, Martinez just seems to get it. Frost put a ton on his plate, and while the freshman mistakes were there, Martinez handled it all extremely well. Big things are ahead for No. 2 in Lincoln.
17. Jim Delany wants expansion, and understandably so
I can’t blame the B1G commissioner for pushing for an expanded Playoff. He watched his conference champ get left out of the field for the third year in a row. That’s a tough sell to the league, which has definitely been competitive. It just hasn’t had that elite team in recent memory.
Delany would also like to see a system that makes every Power 5 conference play the same number of conference games. I can’t argue with that.
What I can argue with is his refusal to back off the 9-game conference schedule. The B1G hasn’t scored a Playoff point since switching to the 9-game conference schedule, and nothing is stopping the conference from joining the ACC and SEC with an 8-game schedule. That discussion and the expansion discussion are far from over.
18. Urban Meyer really was on “the tail end of his career”
New rule: Listen to Dabo Swinney. Why? Because it was Swinney who infamously made headlines during Dec. 2017 when he told 5-star recruit Jackson Carman that Meyer “was on the tail end of his career.” Carman then surprisingly signed with Clemson over the Buckeyes, and Meyer announced his retirement this past December.
Stunning it was that we went from brushing off what looked like an over-the-top negative recruiting jab to not being all that surprised when Meyer made the announcement at season’s end. A lot can happen in the course of a college football season (just ask Miami about that). Between the Zach Smith cover-up/internal investigation/suspension and Meyer’s public battle with a brain cyst that led to migraine headaches, it was a draining year for Meyer.
His retirement announcement left people skeptical after the way he left Florida, but the 54-year-old head coach sounds like he’s done for now. Nobody went into 2018 thinking that it would be Meyer’s last with the Buckeyes.
Who knows what stunner we’ll be talking about this time next year.