Schuttin' from the hip: Will any of the B1G's 3 long losing streaks end?
Each week, Saturday Tradition managing editor Dustin Schutte offers his spin on what matters most in the B1G.
Snapping the streaks of decades-long droughts
If you wanted to assign a theme to Week 8 in the B1G, I could direct you to the band Staind or the movie Frozen. Songs It’s been Awhile and, potentially, For the First Time in Forever are incredibly appropriate for Saturday’s slate.
Three of this weekend’s matchups feature winning streaks that stretch a decade or longer:
- Indiana’s last win vs. Ohio State was in 1988
- Purdue’s last win vs. Wisconsin was in 2003
- Northwestern’s last win vs. Michigan was in 2008
Now you understand the song references, don’t you?
Streaks (or droughts) that have extended this long continue to surprise me. College football is full of chaos. There have been multiple coaching changes among most of the teams involved. At some point, you’d think something would give over the course of a decade.
As we head into It’s been Awhile Week, which team has the best chance to record a win For the First Time in Forever over it’s opponent?
Best chance: Purdue defeats Wisconsin
Purdue’s defense is playing at an incredibly high level, allowing just 14 points per game this season, ranking 2nd in the B1G and 5th nationally. The Boilermakers’ pass defense is also permitting just 178.5 yards per game through the air, which sits in the Top 20 nationally.
Factor in the improved play from Aidan O’Connell at quarterback and having one of the best wide receivers in the nation in David Bell, and there’s a real chance the Badgers suffer another deflating blow.
Graham Mertz still hasn’t been able throw the ball well, tossing 7 interceptions with just 2 touchdowns. The Badgers rank last in the B1G in 3rd-down conversion percentage and are in the bottom half of the league in red zone touchdown percentage. How are they going to score points?
Wisconsin might have found a little bit of a thunder-and-lightning combination with Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen out of the backfield, which could present problems for the Purdue defense. With an inept passing attack, though, it may not be enough.
For those reasons, Purdue has the best chance to end its losing streak this weekend. As we’ve learned in the past, though, there are no guarantees.
Some chance: Northwestern defeats Michigan
Put this in the realm of possible but not very likely. Michigan’s rushing attack has been too much for most opponents this season and the combination of Blake Corum, Hassan Haskins and Donovan Edwards can wear down opponents.
Aidan Hutchinson leads a Michigan defensive line that has been one of the most disruptive in the league, too. Plus, the secondary has held all but 1 quarterback (Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez) to under a 60% completion rate.
Northwestern, on the other hand, has been embarrassed twice this season, falling to Michigan State and Nebraska in blowout losses.
Why the hesitation on this one?
Michigan has had some trouble closing out opponents in the second half. The Wolverines led Rutgers 20-3 at halftime in late September before the Scarlet Knights closed the gap to 20-13 with a chance to put together a tying drive that ultimately failed.
A few weeks later, Michigan needed a late field goal and stop to escape Lincoln with a 32-29 win over Nebraska, despite jumping out to a 13-0 lead through 30 minutes. This team still needs to prove it can drive at full throttle for a full 60 minutes.
If there’s one team you don’t want hanging around, it’s Northwestern. So I’ll give the Cardiac Cats a slim opportunity to upset Michigan this weekend.
No chance: Indiana defeats Ohio State
Indiana has scored 1 touchdown in 3 B1G games — against Iowa, Penn State and Michigan State. The Hoosiers have allowed 3 defensive scores in those games. Is that enough for you?
To take it a step further, Ohio State is averaging 48.5 points per game and has scored a defensive touchdown in each of the past 4 games. Oh, and the Buckeyes are coming off a bye week.
Sorry, IU. There’s no chance.
Bret Bielema drops the sledgehammer
Good ol’ “Bert.”
When Bret Bielema agreed to be the head coach at Illinois, there was a level of excitement throughout the B1G. Well, at least for some of us media types. Why? The former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach had a reputation for saying interesting things.
Remember when Bielema called Arkansas’ 2014 win over Texas “borderline erotic” during the 2015 SEC Media Days? That’s why it was good to see the 3-time B1G champ return to the league.
Bielema’s confidence and willingness to blurt out whatever pops into his head might’ve been to his own detriment this time, though. Earlier this week, Bielema made multiple references to how poorly the Illinois roster was constructed upon his arrival, and how he and players will have to make “difficult decisions” during the offseason.
Here’s the 2-minute clip for complete context:
#Illini Bret Bielema not holding back about his roster today, especially OL:
"I don't believe we have a player in the 2-deep that they've recruited here over the last 3 years that is really significantly doing anything for us in the playing department, that's a major concern" pic.twitter.com/CSvWn0MmJD
— Bret Beherns (@WCIA3Bret) October 18, 2021
Did you cringe? I did.
What’s interesting about Bielema’s comments is that he had such a positive approach walking into Champaign 10 months ago. He offered everyone the opportunity to return to the program. Bielema even hammered home the point that, of the Illinois “family,” he was the newest member.
Now, apparently, he has no trouble tossing those same players under the bus after a 2-5 start. And with 5 games still remaining, you have to wonder how the Fighting Illini will perform after hearing comments like that.
Sure, some players backed Bielema after the presser. Center Doug Kramer called it “just a bunch of noise.” He’s probably not the only one who didn’t consider it a big deal.
But there were probably several guys in the locker room who did take issue with the comment. How they respond is going to be incredibly interesting over the final 5 games of the season.
Fleck vs. Frost
It’s been pretty shady in the B1G coaching circle as of late. Last week, it was Kirk Ferentz and James Franklin who were trading jabs over faking injuries. This time, it’s PJ Fleck and Scott Frost exchanging passive-aggressive comments about “culture vs. skill.”
Yes, please. We need more of this in the B1G.
After Minnesota’s 30-23 win over Nebraska, Fleck made it a point to say the victory was a credit to “culture versus skill.” Many speculated that the snark from the Gophers’ leader was fueled by Frost’s comments at B1G Media Days in July, when he said he wasn’t into “sloganeering.”
Fleck didn’t really expand on the comment, so it’s still a bit of a mystery (but not really).
If that wasn’t fun enough for you, how about Frost clapping back even after a loss? When a reporter asked him about Fleck’s comments following the game, the Nebraska head coach said, “I think they have some skilled players, too. So, I’m surprised to hear that.”
Coaches have been tight-lipped for too long in college football. We’re finally starting to see some personalities develop in the B1G, and it’s led to some interesting banter over the past few weeks.
Let’s keep it rollin’. This is good for the sport. It’s even better for the B1G.
Northwestern vs. No. 6 Michigan: The biggest question about this game? Is Michigan going to be looking ahead to next week’s rivalry showdown against Michigan State. Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski has played fairly well as the starter but he hasn’t faced a defense that’s as effective at getting pressure as Michigan. From an offensive perspective, the Wildcats don’t have much chance. Their defense hasn’t been much better.
Illinois vs. No. 7 Penn State: Here’s the scary thing for Illinois — Penn State had 2 weeks to stew over that loss to Iowa in Kinnick Stadium. This will be an angry Nittany Lions team looking to prove to a point. Because of how poorly the Fighting Illini have played offensively, there’s a good chance Penn State’s defense pitches its 2nd shutout in the past 3 games. It has a chance to be really lopsided in State College on Saturday afternoon.
Wisconsin vs. No. 25 Purdue: Does history repeat itself? Purdue hasn’t defeated Wisconsin since 2003, but this might be the Boilers’ best shot to strike down the Badgers. The “Brohm Squad” is playing really well defensively and Wisconsin’s offense is … struggling, to put it kindly. Plus, it looks like Purdue found a little magic rotating between Aidan O’Connell, Jack Plummer and Austin Burton at quarterback in Iowa City. Why not keep it going in an effort to snap an 18-year drought?
Maryland vs. Minnesota: Tanner Morgan is coming off his best performance of the season and the Gophers still have some talent in the running back room with Bryce Williams. Maryland, on the hand, is coming out of the bye week and has had time to adjust without the services of Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones. Both of these teams still have something to prove after a 4-2 start to the year. This game is going to come down to which defense is more reliable. So far, that’s been Minnesota. We’ll see if it changes Saturday.
No. 5 Ohio State vs. Indiana: Ohio State’s defense has shown significant improvement since the first week of the season. Indiana’s offense has not. The Hoosiers have scored just 1 touchdown in 3 B1G contests while tossing 3 pick-6s. The Buckeyes have a defensive score in 4 straight games. This is another game that will probably get ugly. Ohio State hasn’t lost to Indiana since 1988, and it won’t this weekend, either.
No. 5 Ohio State (-20.5) vs. Indiana
Remember when we thought Indiana might be the biggest challenger to Ohio State in the B1G East? This was a game circled on the calendar during the offseason for a lot of folks.
Since the loss to Oregon in Week 2, Ohio State has defeated Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers and Maryland by an average margin of 40.3 points per game. The Buckeyes would’ve covered a 20.5 spread in all 4 contests, winning each game by 21 points or more.
Indiana, on the other hand, has scored just 1 touchdown in 3 B1G games. The defense has played well, especially last weekend in a 20-15 loss to Michigan State, but Ohio State is an entirely different animal.
The Buckeyes might cover the spread in the first half. Then they’ll pile it on over the next 30 minutes to make a statement.