What every B1G team should be thankful for this Thanksgiving
Before we’re able to carve the turkey or drown the mashed potatoes in gravy, before we pile up the green bean casserole or butter up the rolls, before we dig in to the pecan and pumpkin pie, we’ll inevitably be asked one question.
“What are you thankful for?”
It’s a common question on Thanksgiving and it gives us time to reflect on all the people, opportunities and adventures we’re grateful to have in our lives.
B1G football teams are no different. Every single team has a player, coach, moment or performance that should be appreciated. And, before we even start thinking about scooping out macaroni-and-cheese one heaping spoonful at a time, we need to identify who and what those are, as well.
Here’s what every B1G team should be thankful for:
Illinois: Landing Lovie Smith on short notice
Maybe Illinois’ season didn’t play out the way fans wanted it to, and maybe Smith couldn’t instantly resurrect a dying program, but to have someone with his credentials in Champaign is nothing short of remarkable.
Smith’s first year is going to go down as a dud, but you can’t judge the impact he’ll have on the program after a few months.
With his NFL experience and familiarity with Illinois and Chicago, Smith will undoubtedly improve the image of Illini football and will start landing some of those borderline recruits that coaches need to alter the course of a program.
it’s still hard to believe he was willing to come in a week before spring practices started.
Indiana: Tom Allen’s defense
It was all about offense for Indiana in the Kevin Wilson era. The Hoosiers were consistently one of the top passing teams in the B1G and could score as effectively as anyone in the country. Defense was an afterthought.
That changed when Allen arrived. His intensity has translated well to his players and Indiana is no longer being trampled by opposing offenses. That was particularly beneficial this year, as injuries have hindered the Hoosiers production on the offensive side of the ball.
It’s only been one year and Allen and transformed IU’s defense. For those efforts, he’s been named a finalist for the Broyles Award, an honor for the nation’s top assistant coach.
That’s something that should keep excitement levels high.
“A little bit of Hoosier Hysteria from new defensive coordinator Tom Allen.” pic.twitter.com/FCrixXuidC
— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) September 2, 2016
Iowa: Kinnick Stadium’s Saturday night magic
2016 had already been designated as an opportunity for Iowa to get back to Indianapolis and try to finish what it couldn’t a year before. When that didn’t happen – as losses to North Dakota State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Penn State derailed hopes of a B1G West crown – the Hawkeyes needed something to sooth the pain.
Cue the lights at Kinnick Stadium.
A 14-13 win over Michigan on a last-second field goal provided Iowa with that memorable moment it needed to salvage the season. Before the mid-November matchup, the Hawkeyes were 5-1 in their last six night games in Iowa City. They proved – once again – Kinnick Stadium isn’t an easy place to play when the sun sets.
Maryland: D.J. Durkin’s recruiting prowess
It hasn’t taken long for Durkin to make an impact on the field in College Park. Heading into the final week of the season, the Terrapins are teetering on the verge of bowl eligibility with a chance to lock up its sixth win on Saturday against Rutgers.
But Durkin’s biggest impact has come in recruiting. The former defensive coordinator has placed an emphasis on establishing a presence in the Maryland-Virginia-D.C.-area. One year into the job, that’s paying off.
Maryland currently has the nation’s 15th-best recruiting class according to 247 Sports, ranking third in the B1G behind only Ohio State and Michigan.
If that keeps up, it won’t take long before the Terrapins are contenders in the East.
Michigan: Wilton Speight’s development
We all knew how good Michigan’s defense was and we knew about the weapons it had on offense. Really, the only question entering the season revolved around the quarterback and how he would answer the call.
Speight has responded beautifully. He’s thrown for more than 2,000 yards and has 15 TD passes with just four INTs to his name. Those numbers have helped get Michigan to its 10-1 status and vying for a B1G title and College Football Playoff bid.
The sophomore may not be the top quarterback in the B1G but he’s provided everything that Michigan has needed in a passer.
Michigan State: Rutgers is in the B1G
What can you really say?
This season hasn’t just been discouraging for Michigan State, it’s been a disaster. The Spartans were potentially toying with a winless conference campaign and tumbling from first to worst in the matter of a year.
Luckily for MSU, Rutgers is in the East division and the Spartans were able to get a B1G win on their resume. That’s about all Mark Dantonio and company can be thankful for in this head-scratching season.
Minnesota: Its best run defense in over a decade
In the B1G, it’s important to stop the run. Tracy Claeys seems to understand that concept pretty well.
The Gophers are having their best season defending the run since 2003, ranking fourth in the conference and holding teams to just over 116 yards per contest. Is it a coincidence that Minnesota’s defense gets better immediately after a former defensive coordinator was handed the head coaching gig?
Either way, Minnesota’s improvement against the run has helped get to the eight-win mark and gives the Gophers a fighting chance to bring Paul Bunyan’s Axe back to Minneapolis for the first time in 13 years.
Nebraska: Opposing programs showings support following the passing of Sam Foltz
Tragedy and heartbreak.
Those are the only two words that can describe what Nebraska has endured this season after the sudden loss of former punter Sam Foltz.
One of the beautiful things about sports is, we’ve seen just how much this catastrophe has affected every program and how they’ve responded when taking on Nebraska.
Teams have dedicated jerseys, flowers, coins and plaques to honor Foltz’s memory and showing support for the Nebraska football family. It’s truly been one of the most heartwarming stories in college football for a team that was utterly devastated by an indescribable tragedy in July.
Northwestern: Austin Carr’s B1G-leading season
With so many talented receivers in the B1G, nobody saw Carr’s spectacular season coming.
The senior leads the conference in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,170) and TD catches (12). He’s been the most reliable target in the B1G and has been a weapon for Clayton Thorson that defenses have trouble stopping.
Carr has 46 more catches than the second-most targeted receiver in Northwestern’s offense, Flynn Nagel. Remove the former walk-on from the offense and its hard to imagine the Wildcats moving the chains with any consistency.
Ohio State: Michigan State’s failed two-point conversion attempt
If the Spartans converted, college football would’ve been robbed from a No. 2 vs. No.3 matchup in Columbus with everything on the line. Ohio State’s B1G and CFP hopes would’ve been squashed.
Ohio State flirted with disaster from start to finish, and was probably even outplayed by Michigan State in East Lansing, but the two-point conversion was all that mattered. The Buckeyes survived and a national title is still in the picture heading into Saturday’s game against Michigan.
That’s something Ohio State – and the rest of the college football world – should be thankful for.
Penn State: Tyler Davis’ field goal vs. Minnesota
If Davis doesn’t make this field goal at the end of regulation, Saquon Barkley doesn’t high-step into the end zone to beat Minnesota, Penn State doesn’t stun Ohio State in Happy Valley, and the Nittany Lions don’t rattle off seven-straight wins.
Some might argue that the blocked field goal returned for a score against the Buckeyes was the most important play of the season. But something changed in James Franklin’s team after it beat Minnesota. That was certainly the most impactful win PSU has had this season.
And it doesn’t happen without the leg of the kicker.
Purdue: A solid list of coaching candidates
Les Miles, P.J. Fleck, Brock Spack and Bo Pelini.
Those are all coaches who have been reported to have interest in the head coaching position at Purdue, despite its status in the cellar of the B1G. Even though Darrell Hazell may have been in West Lafayette a year too long, it looks like the timing might work out perfectly for the program to land a game-changer.
Athletic director Mike Bobinski certainly has to be happy about the options he has available.
Rutgers: Janarion Grant’s special teams touchdowns
What little excitement that has been associated with Rutgers football this season was mostly due to Grant’s big play ability.
Before a season-ending injury, Grant was dominating special teams in Piscataway, recording two touchdowns in his first four games. Against Howard, he took a kickoff 84 yards for a TD. A week later, he added a 69-yard punt return to the end zone to his impressive resume.
But Grant was injured in the fourth game of the season against Iowa and all of Rutgers big-play ability went out the window.
At least fans have those few plays early in the season.
Wisconsin: The tough strength of schedule
Nearly everyone was writing off Wisconsin because of the daunting schedule that included games against LSU, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers answered the call, though, and that formidable slate appears to be helping push the team towards a potential CFP bid.
Sure, losses to the Buckeyes and Wolverines hurt the resume, but the selection committee appears to be more impressed with Wisconsin’s performance in those two contests, as well as wins over LSU, Nebraska and Iowa.
What appeared to be Wisconsin’s biggest hurdle might be paving the way for an extended season.