I’m resetting expectations for these 4 B1G teams after Week 1
Throughout this offseason, we’ve predicted, projected and pontificated about what every Big Ten team would do. Now that we’ve actually seen these teams play, though, I think it’s fair to reevaluate.
Before I get to the 4 teams that I’m resetting expectations for, I think it is worth mentioning the team that I’m not resetting expectations for: Indiana.
In the preseason, Indiana received 19 points in the AP poll, enough to unofficially designate them as the 35th best team in the country. In the poll from last week, the Hoosiers got 4 points, unofficially making them the 45th ranked team in the country.
After upsetting No. 8 Penn State at home last Saturday, Indiana surged up the rankings, checking in at No. 17 for its highest AP ranking since it was also 17th in 1993. What should we make of Indiana’s big breakthrough? Are the Hoosiers really the 17th-best team in the country now?
Sorry Indiana fans, the answer is no — for now. The expectations for Indiana — I predicted a 4-4 season, which in a loaded B1G East is pretty good — have not changed because the Hoosiers actually played much worse than I thought they would.
If Penn State hadn’t gone 0-for-3 on field goals, including a miss from 25 yards, Indiana would have never made it to overtime. If Penn State had run out the clock like it should have instead of inexplicably scoring a touchdown, Indiana would have never made it to overtime. If the refs had ruled that Michael Penix Jr. had been down before he reached the pylon on the final 2-point conversion, Indiana would have lost.
Then what would we have been saying? Same old Indiana, can’t close out the game against the ranked team.
I was expecting an explosive offense led by Michael Penix Jr., Whop Philyor and Stevie Scott that would go shot for shot with Penn State. Instead, I saw a plodding group that barely moved the ball.
The Hoosiers were outgained 488-211. In College Football Reference’s 20-year database, there has been only one other game in which a team has had 211 or fewer yards, given up 488 or more yards, and still won. Coincidentally, it was Indiana that pulled it off — in 2004 at Oregon.
That’s why one game in, my opinion of Indiana hasn’t changed much. As most observer are by now, I’m a believer in Tom Allen and the job he has done there. But Indiana won’t get these same breaks every week, and it needs to get back to playing the quality of football it played last season. If it struggles like it did last week, a lesser team will pull an upset — just like Indiana did. While I think this is just one game and I believe Indiana will play better, I also need to see it before I believe that it is a top-20 team.
Penn State, on the flip side, should have won the game. It came down to missing 3 field goals, a mental mistake and an unfortunate call. The expectations haven’t changed much, even if the head coach continues to make baffling late-game decisions.
That said, here are 4 teams that I am resetting expectations for (besides Michigan, which I elaborated on in a column on Tuesday):
With the news that Graham Mertz and backup Chase Wolf both tested positive for COVID-19 and now must sit out for at least 21 days, the Badgers are no longer the clear-cut favorite in the B1G West. Danny Vanden Boom, Wisconsin’s 4th-string QB, appears to be the starter for the next 3 weeks. If you’ll recall, Jack Coan was already out indefinitely with a foot injury.
This is a tremendous burden on Wisconsin, obviously, and its next 3 games are against teams that looked good in Week 1: Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. If Wisconsin can win one of those games, it should be happy. If it wins two, it should ecstatic. Just one win puts the Badgers at 2-2 and in great position to get Mertz back and go on a run. While they have a tough finish to the season, they would still be favored in each of those final 4 games (Northwestern, Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa).
I’m trying not to overreact to what I watched on Saturday night against Michigan for a few reasons. For one, I think Michigan is really good. And two, Minnesota was clearly not playing with a full deck, as not having a kicker or a punter put it in disadvantageous situations all game long.
But I cannot ignore what I saw on defense. Michigan gashed Minnesota like it was a Group of 5 non-conference game, averaging a ridiculous 8.3 yards per rush. On Zach Charbonnet’s long touchdown run, for example, the Golden Gophers couldn’t get lined up in the proper gaps, and they got burned.
— TheWolverine.com (@TheWolverineMag) October 25, 2020
We figured Minnesota would not be as good defensively without Antoine Winfield, who covered up some weaknesses last year, but allowing a B1G-worst 7 plays of 20 yards or more is a major, major red flag. Minnesota allowed only 42 such plays all of last season, just over 3 per game.
And with Tanner Morgan not looking nearly as sharp as last season, it’s hard to fathom the Golden Gophers duplicating last year’s magic. I thought Minnesota could win 6 or 7 games, and now I’m thinking .500 is more reasonable.
I was surprised Purdue was only getting 3.5 points last week against Iowa, and as always, Vegas knew something I didn’t. Whether that reflects more on Iowa or Purdue, I’m not certain, but I thought Iowa was going to be the team that everyone overlooked and remind us that it exploded for 49 points against USC to close last season. But for whatever reason, Iowa has now lost 3 of 4 to Purdue. It happens.
Purdue, though, had every reason to lose this game. It was missing its best player, Rondale Moore, and its head coach, Jeff Brohm. Those are two built-in excuses, and no one would’ve faulted the Boilermakers. And yet, Purdue continues to show the fight it displayed while short-handed last season.
Maybe new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has found something with this defense, as it allowed just 3 second-half points and gave the offense a chance to make a few plays and steal a win. Thanks to David Bell, it did.
And the bruising, shockingly athletic Zander Horvath may be good enough to keep defenses honest in the run game.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 24, 2020
With Moore and Brohm presumably back in the fold at some point, Purdue challenging in the suddenly wide-open West would not surprise me.
I penciled in Rutgers for an 0-8 season and didn’t think much of it, to be honest. But that is clearly on me. Rutgers has loaded up on Big Ten transfers, including Noah Vedral (Nebraska), Aron Cruickshank (Wisconsin), Brendon White (Ohio State), Michael Dwumfour (Michigan), Malik Barrow (Ohio State) and Mayan Ahanotu (Minnesota). Maybe this is just a group with something to prove.
Now I’m wondering who else Rutgers will beat. Illinois and Maryland are obvious candidates, and maybe Rutgers can surprise Purdue or Indiana, too. After ending a 21-game B1G losing streak, Rutgers is playing with house money. But Greg Schiano’s men probably have their sights set higher than 1 win. And I’m sold.