B1G stock report: Hawkeyes shine, Buckeyes stumble in Week 2
Welcome to the B1G stock report, where we take a look at the Big Ten’s biggest movers in either direction each given week.
And since we want you to become informed investors, we won’t just recap the obvious — we’ll tell you whether this movement will be permanent, or just a temporary illusion.
For the Hawkeyes, the best offense is a good defense. In an era where the past 2 national championships were won with record-setting offenses and 5 of the past 7 champions scored 40 points in the title game, Iowa is content to do its scoring on the other side of the ball. Iowa’s defense has 3 touchdowns through 2 games.
For context, that equals the scoring of the Iowa State, Miami and Arizona offenses, among others.
Buy or sell: Sell.
Iowa certainly looks like it will be a comfortable favorite to win the West, but it’s rare that a team can count on its defense to put points on the board in addition to preventing opponents from scoring them. An offense that is a miserable 125th nationally in yards per play (3.84) will have to pick up the slack at some point this season, or its defense will be stuck on the field for far too long in a crucial game. That yards per play figure will surely get better given the difficulty of Iowa’s early schedule, but we aren’t all-in on the Hawks until we see it.
Penn State as the favorite in the East
Iowa’s clearly had the best start to the season in the Big Ten, but Penn State is a close second.
The Nittany Lions looked shaky offensively at Wisconsin but impressed with a 44-13 cakewalk over Ball State. And yeah, it’s only Ball State. But the Cardinals are every bit as good as the Toledo team that nearly topped Notre Dame on Saturday. Combined with Ohio State’s struggles against the run the first 2 weeks (more on that later), it’s time to start considering that Penn State has what it takes to topple the Buckeyes.
Buy or sell: Buy.
We’ll get a pretty immediate read on whether this is a bad call when Penn State hosts a mid-tier SEC team in Auburn. But based on what we’ve seen, I’m high on the Nittany Lions’ chances of making it to Indianapolis.
Michigan’s run game
Jim Harbaugh’s affinity for Bo Schembechler is showing in his 2021 playbook.
The Wolverines are running the ball at a 3:1 ratio. There are only 4 teams in the country that have attempted fewer passes: the 3 service academies, which run the triple option, and Louisiana-Monroe, which has played just 1 game.
It resulted in a pretty cool outcome against Washington, as Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins became just the third Michigan duo to each rush for over 150 yards in a game since 1940. The Wolverines are 4th in the country with 339 yards per game on the ground.
Buy or sell: Sell.
This isn’t sustainable.
The Wolverines have the feel of Les Miles’ LSU teams, which were loaded with great defenses and running backs but couldn’t be counted on to throw the ball downfield. Thus far quarterback Cade McNamara hasn’t been trusted to test an opposing secondary, and the formula for beating Michigan will be quite simple.
Michigan State’s run game
They certainly know how to run the ball in The Mitten.
Michigan State is averaging 299 yards per game on the ground through 2 weeks, with its average of 7.97 yards per play trailing only Florida and Auburn nationally. Like Michigan, it has been a two-headed attack as Kenneth Walker III (264 yards vs. Northwestern) and Jordon Simmons (121 vs. Indiana State) have had breakout games.
Buy or sell: Buy.
The difference between Michigan and Michigan State? Sparty can throw a forward pass.
Payton Thorne isn’t going to be an all-Big Ten quarterback, but he has played smart football. You can get away with averaging 232 yards per game when you complete 65% of your throws and don’t toss any interceptions. That ability will keep defenses honest and allow Michigan State’s running game to potentially thrive.
Where does Purdue go in the post-Rondale Moore era?
To David Bell.
Bell has been sublime in 2021 with back-to-back showings over 120 receiving yards to open the season. He followed up his 8-catch, 134-yard performance against Oregon State with 6 grabs for 121 yards and 3 touchdowns against UConn.
Buy or sell: Buy.
We’d advise you not to read too much into anything anyone does against UConn this season because the Huskies probably wouldn’t make the playoffs in Division II. And no, that doesn’t mean the FCS. That means Division II.
But this is nothing new for Bell. He went over the century mark 4 times in Purdue’s 6-game 2020 schedule, and going back to the season finale against Nebraska, he has now eclipsed the 120 mark in 3 straight games. Ohio State has the best all-around group of dudes in their receiving corps in the conference — if not the whole country — but Bell might be the most fun B1G receiver you’ll find outside of Columbus.
State of the Indiana program
A season-opening drubbing at Iowa had Hoosiers fans wondering whether their greatest season in decades was a 1-year aberration that couldn’t even be properly celebrated since it was impossible to see the team in person — in other words, the essence of Indiana football.
But the narrative feels different a week later after Iowa crushed Iowa State and the Hoosiers righted the ship with a 56-14 win over Idaho. Perhaps we didn’t see the same old Hoosiers, but a team that will recover after running into a Week 1 buzzsaw.
Buy or sell: Hold.
There’s plenty of reason to remain optimistic about the program’s trajectory under Tom Allen, but Saturday’s matchup with No. 7 Cincinnati will provide an answer into whether there will be an immediate payoff in 2021.
When Indiana beat Penn State to open the 2020 schedule, it was the program’s first win over a Top 10 opponent since 1987. It was also a misnomer. The Nittany Lions were nowhere near being a Top 10 team in reality.
The Bearcats, on the other hand, are the real deal. Cincinnati led Georgia — possibly the best team in the country in 2021 — for the majority of the Peach Bowl. Now Luke Fickell’s crew is trying to run the table and crash the College Football Playoff.
It’s no exaggeration to say this would be Indiana’s biggest win since the Bill Mallory era.
Rutgers’ turnover margin
There’s no telling how many times we’ll be able to bathe Rutgers in a positive light, so time to strike the iron while it’s hot.
Much like Iowa, Rutgers has been incredibly opportunistic on defense in Greg Schiano’s second season back in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights are your national leaders in turnover margin, snatching the ball away from opponents 8 times while the offense has yet to produce a turnover.
Buy or sell: Sell.
If this were 2005 or so, you’d have to feel pretty good about Rutgers’ odds of running the table in the Big East after stifling Temple and Syracuse.
Alas, it is not. So you should neither attempt rocking frosted tips or buying too much stock in a full-blown Rutgers resurgence in the Big Ten East.
That said, forward progress is good. And while Rutgers is unlikely to sustain an average of 4 takeaways per game, if the Scarlet Knights continue to avoid mistakes on offense they can sneak their way to bowl eligibility.
Ohio State’s defensive coordinator has been battered all over the internet since a sievelike showing in a 35-28 loss to Oregon. And since this is the internet, there’s little choice but to batter him some more.
In Coombs’ defense, Ohio State is far from the only team run off the field by an Oregon offense. And OSU’s defense did do enough to help out the offense with some critical stops in the fourth quarter.
The more troubling aspect is that this defense has been exposed in both games. Ohio State is dead last in the Big Ten against the run, surrendering 236 yards per game on the ground. That’s a troubling development in an increasingly run-oriented Big Ten East.
Buy or sell: Hold.
This stock isn’t going to get any cheaper, so might as well hold it on the off chance it rebounds.
The thinking here: Chances are the Buckeyes have already seen the two best running backs they’ll face all year in Minnesota’s Mo Ibrahim and Oregon’s CJ Verdell. And while Ohio State isn’t going to magically get great against the run, maybe games against Tulsa and Akron will give the Buckeyes a chance to regain some swagger. This could be rock bottom.
For Coombs, it had better be.
The CJ Stroud hype train
In fairness to Ohio State’s redshirt freshman quarterback, one is relatively powerless to slow down a hype train engineered by Fox Sports announcer Gus Johnson, who may be the most excited man alive.
But given that Ohio State’s first two games were called by Johnson, at times viewers were given the impression that Stroud is well on his way to filling Justin Fields’ shoes. And maybe he is. But it’s OK to tone down the hyperbole just a tad before we get there.
Stroud is averaging 389 yards per game in his first 2 starts — pretty stupefying stuff — but has also been picked off twice. Those numbers are also juiced by a receiving corps that can turn any intermediate pass into a long gain.
Buy or sell: Buy with caution.
Stroud’s almost certainly going to get there, but let’s not act like it has already happened.
He has also been a slow starter in both games, with only 1 of his touchdown throws coming before halftime. If we see second-half Stroud for a whole game, then we can talk.
The Bielema bump
Illinois looked good in Bret Bielema’s debut with the Fighting Illini, and there was reason to be optimistic about Fighting Illini football for the first time in a long time.
But as it turns out, that’s perhaps just more a thing that happens when you play Nebraska. The Illini had an inevitable letdown game against a solid UTSA squad, and then were squashed in a 42-14 loss at Virginia that looked like vintage (name a year in the 2010s) Illini.
Has the ceiling already been reached in Year 1 of this rehab project?
Buy or sell: Hold until next year.
We’ll need to see more to know more. After all, both of Illinois’ losses are to teams with the same blue-and-orange color scheme. Could be a strictly chromatic issue.
But it’s more likely a “can’t cover anyone” issue, and that’s not something you can easily fix unless you have the good fortune of facing a team with a running quarterback that the opposing coaching staff insists on using as a drop-back passer. The Illini are allowing 311 passing yards per game, which checks in at 122nd nationally. They are also 114th in defensive passing efficiency.
Bielema’s energy is a good fit for Illinois, but it’ll need to come with a side of defensive backs for anything good to happen.