Schuttin' from the hip: Even with chaos in 2021, it looks like we'll see familiar faces in the B1G Championship Game
Chaos be damned, it looks like another Ohio State-Wisconsin B1G title game
Wild. Unprecedented. Crazy. Chaotic. Go ahead, pick your adjective to describe the 2021 college football season. Maybe it’s not quite as unpredictable as 2007, but it’s damn close.
The B1G was not exempt from the early-season shenanigans. Reigning B1G champion and national championship runner-up Ohio State suffered a home loss to Oregon in Week 2. Wisconsin, the dominant force in the West, started the season 1-3, which included blowout losses to Notre Dame and Michigan.
Iowa and Penn State were both undefeated and ranked in the Top 5 heading into the second week of October. Michigan and Michigan State were finding ways to win. Purdue and Minnesota continued to linger in the West.
Six weeks into the season, it felt like all this chaos would lead to some changes in both divisions. For the first time in awhile, maybe someone else would take the East and a squad not named Wisconsin or Northwestern would claim the West.
Technically, that’s still in play. Heading into Rivalry Week, it sure doesn’t feel like it’s going to happen.
A trip to Indianapolis is at stake in Ann Arbor on Saturday. With both Ohio State and Michigan sitting at 10-1 on the year, Jim Harbaugh has coined “The Game” a playoff-type situation. The winner moves on, while the loser will likely have its College Football Playoff bubble burst.
Michigan is playing some of the best football of the Harbaugh era right now. The Wolverines have two of the best defensive players in the sport with David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson. The running game — on the shoulders of Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum — has been deadly. Cade McNamara has graduated from game manager to legitimate offensive weapon.
The Wolverines have all the weapons to take down a team of Ohio State’s caliber and snap that 8-game losing streak.
To steal a quote from Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, “This feels like the same old movie.”
Michigan has been hyped before. Harbaugh’s squads have carried plenty of momentum into the final week of the season multiple times — particularly in 2016 and 2018. It hasn’t mattered.
So, call me skeptical if you wish. I’m in “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode. That’s a right that fans, journalists and anyone else watching “The Game” this weekend has earned after Harbaugh’s 0-5 start against the Buckeyes.
I haven’t even had to mention the fact that CJ Stroud is playing at a Heisman-caliber level right now. Against Michigan State, the freshman threw for 432 yards with 6 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. The 3-headed monster at wide receiver of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave has proven to be unstoppable.
Smith-Njigba is already over 1,000 yards this season, with Wilson and Olave also approaching that mark. Plus, there’s a pretty skilled guy named TreVeyon Henderson, who is 1 of 4 B1G backs over 1,000 yards, in the backfield.
As well as Michigan has played, it still feels like it is no match for the high-powered Buckeyes. Even if the Wolverines get the benefit of home-field advantage.
The story out West
Three teams are still in the race in the B1G West. Wisconsin sits in the catbird seat with Iowa and Minnesota still having a puncher’s chance to steal the bid to the B1G Championship Game.
If the Badgers beat Minnesota, the race is over. At 9-3, Paul Chryst’s team would be the winners of 8-straight games and heading back to Indianapolis for the fourth time in 6 years. Even though Minnesota has played well without some key contributors this season, the Gophers upending the Badgers feels like a longshot.
Minnesota’s greatest offensive weapon is in the rushing attack. The Gophers have lost multiple running backs but have still found success with Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving out of the backfield. But PJ Fleck’s team hasn’t seen a run defense playing at this kind of level, though.
The Badgers rank first nationally in run defense, allowing less than 60 yards per contest. Quarterback Tanner Morgan played much better in Minnesota’s win against Indiana, but he’s not proven capable of winning a game when the Gophers are shut down on the ground.
It’s what’s going to have to happen for Minnesota to win.
Minnesota’s defense would also have to figure out a way to slow down Allen, a task that no team has been able to accomplish in the last 7 outings. He’s coming off a season-best 228-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Nebraska.
Joe Rossi’s defense has played well, but Wisconsin’s offense is running at a new pace right now.
A Wisconsin loss opens the door for Iowa to make a return to Indianapolis for the first time since 2015. If the Gophers’ take down the Badgers, the Hawkeyes fall to the Huskers, and Purdue takes down Indiana, Minnesota is making its first ever trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Is it possible? Yes. By the time Saturday comes to a close, I still think it’ll be Wisconsin taking on Ohio State for the B1G Championship Game once again on Dec. 4.
The journalist in me doesn’t care, wanting to see the two best teams compete for a conference championship. This season has been so chaotic, though, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope for a little more to end the year.
The mac-and-cheese debate
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving weekend without a little food debate, would it?
Tables across the country are full of wonderful foods during this gluttonous holiday. Turkey and mashed potatoes are considered staples at every Thanksgiving dinner. Green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, stuffing (or dressing), and pecan and pumpkin pies are pretty typical sides, as well.
Macaroni and cheese isn’t nearly as common. Should it be?
As a major mac’n’cheese connoisseur, I believe it’s one of the most underrated sides for any holiday — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, you name it. Some don’t agree.
Former Ohio State and NFL linebacker and current radio show host (97.1 The Fan’s Morning Juice) Bobby Carpenter is one of the biggest critics. In his eyes, macaroni and cheese belongs on the backburner of stove. Or maybe it doesn’t even belong on the stove at all.
I have to agree… in the pantheon of sides Mac and Cheese is near the back of the pack
It s a kids food https://t.co/vKsAIgNAzt
— Bobby Carpenter (@Bcarp3) November 23, 2021
Is macaroni and cheese a must-have side for Thanksgiving? Or is it only on the table to give children something to eat during the holiday?
Mutual respect in the Old Oaken Bucket game
A lot of hate comes out during Rivalry Week. That won’t be the case in the Hoosier State when Purdue and Indiana go head-to-head in West Lafayette on Saturday. Well, at least among the two head coaches.
Both Jeff Brohm and Tom Allen were asked about their relationship over the past 5 seasons. It’s nothing but respect on both sides.
Brohm says that, between the two head coaches, the Purdue-Indiana game is viewed as a friendly rivalry:
“Tom’s a good person. I’ve gotten a chance to know him. He’s coached HS in the state, so I know he takes a lot of pride in representing himself and (IU). “We’re friendly rivals. I wish the best for him. …He’s a good ambassador for the program.”
Allen has been impressed with the way Brohm handles business, particularly when it comes to doing things the right way:
“A lot of respect. We’ve both had our ups and downs the last few years. I’ve always respected him a lot and reach out to him at different times. “I respect guys who do things the right way and I think he’s one of those guys. He’s a tough hard-nosed guy.”
In a perfect world, we’d all like to believe the head coaches of our favorite teams have a pure hatred for the opponent. For some, that’s probably true. That’s not the case in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket.
For Brohm and Allen, this is a rivalry built on respect.
#16 Iowa vs. Nebraska: It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Nebraska beats Iowa without Adrian Martinez. Anything is possible in a rivalry game, though. Even though the Huskers are 3-8, knocking Iowa out of the B1G West race to close out the season would provide some momentum heading into the offseason. That’s enough to concern the Hawkeyes.
#2 Ohio State vs. #5 Michigan: Does Michigan finally have the firepower on both sides of the ball to end a lengthy losing streak to Ohio State? Jim Harbaugh’s team looks prepared to handle the high-powered Buckeyes, but history has a way of repeating itself. This should be a fun showdown in Ann Arbor, one with plenty at stake for both teams.
Maryland vs. Rutgers: Bowl eligibility is on the line. It would be a huge lift for both programs that have struggled mightily since joining the B1G in 2014. Maryland has the offensive firepower to put up a lot of points on the scoreboard. Rutgers’ has a defense that could keep the Terrapins in check. The Scarlet Knights’ ability to make plays on the offensive side is going to go a long way in determining a winner.
Penn State vs. #12 Michigan State: Could this be the third time in 4 games Michigan State’s pass defense is exposed? Penn State loves to throw the ball all over the field and has more than enough weapons to take advantage of a week Spartans secondary. Plus, the Nittany Lion defense has proven capable of keeping explosive offenses at bay. Penn State has a great chance to spoil Michigan State’s hopes of a 10-win regular season.
Northwestern vs. Illinois: On paper, Illinois is better on both sides of the football. The problem? The Fighting Illini have been in this situation before, only to fall to their in-state rival. Illinois has been a dangerous team as the season has progressed but Pat Fitzgerald always has a little magic up his sleeve at least once per season.
Indiana vs. Purdue: Indiana hasn’t been able to move the ball all season. The Hoosiers need to dig into the bag of tricks offensively in order to pull off an upset in West Lafayette. If they don’t, the Boilermakers are going to be able to cruise to their first 8-win regular season since 2006.
#14 Wisconsin vs. Minnesota: Just like a traditional B1G November football game, this one comes down to the run game. Can Minnesota have success on the ground against Wisconsin’s rush defense? Can the Gophers shut down the hot-handed Braelon Allen when he’s carrying the rock? The winner of those two battles will likely take home Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
#16 Iowa (+1) vs. Nebraska
Does Vegas know something that we don’t? It doesn’t make much sense that the 3-8 Huskers are favored over the 9-2 Hawkeyes, but here we are. College football is weird, right?
Nebraska has been competitive in every single game this season. It will absolutely have a chance to win, even without Adrian Martinez under center. The defense is playing that well right now.
The problem? What would give anyone any faith that the Huskers could win a 1-possession game? They’ve lost 7 of their 8 games by 8 points or less. If it’s a close game, give me the Hawkeyes.