As the 2014 season started, the Big 10 had little respect from the rest of the nation. Michigan State and Ohio State started the season in the top 10.
Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota were ranked by some. But, this conference was basically dead in the water.
What really hurts this conference besides lack of population in certain areas is that they can’t keep the best players home.
Auburn’s possibly best player on offense last season was Cameron Artis-Payne, who led the SEC in rushing in 2014. Artis-Payne is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Indiana did beat SEC East Champ Missouri last season, but when their Quarterback went down, so did their season. Indiana native and once top rated Quarterback Gunner Kiel was once committed to Indiana before he switched to LSU and then Notre Dame and finally wound up at Cincinnati. The Hoosiers sure could have used Kiel this past season.
Ole Miss was humming along last season before top player Laquan Treadwell got broken nearly in half against Auburn. The Rebels followed along with Treadwell and crashed most of the rest of their season as well other than the Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State. Treadwell is from Crete, Illinois.
Antonio Morrison is Florida’s leading tackler and is from Crete, Illinois.
I can go on and on with many examples, but anyone reading this can get the point. There are players all over the country playing on schools not in the Big 10 and these guys are not only good, but they are that teams’ best player in many instances.
The Big 10 needs to keep their best at home and steal some from other areas as well and especially out of Florida and the South.
In week two of the 2014 college football season, Nebraska needed a miracle to beat mighty McNeese State and I am being sarcastic when I use the word ‘mighty’ and McNeese State in the same sentence. Central Michigan blew out Purdue and Northern Illinois beat Northwestern. Michigan State lost big at Oregon and Notre Dame demolished Michigan.
Virginia Tech traveled into Columbus, Ohio and beat the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Things were not looking good for the Big 10. That was a definite low point, but the lows weren’t over.
In week three, West Virginia beat Maryland. Powerful Bowling Green beat Indiana. Iowa lost to in-state rival Iowa State and the Iowa State Cyclones were not very good at all.
Nobody realized how good TCU was back then and they clubbed Minnesota, 30-7.
Washington embarrassed Illinois and Purdue lost to old time rival Notre Dame. These were not good days clearly in the Big 10.
In week four, the Big 10 made a comeback of sorts. Indiana shocked everybody by beating Missouri of the SEC. Sure, it was a fluke, but I don’t need to tell anyone that it was a big deal, too.
All of the other Big 10 teams won, but they weren’t exactly playing powerhouse football programs.
By this time, the entire nation thought the Big 10 was trash. But, then, they had thought those same thoughts when the season had started.
Moving forward to the Michigan vs Ohio State battle. As expected, the Buckeyes proved to be too much for the Wolverines. But, Ohio State Buckeyes starting Quarterback JT Barrett went down in that game and would be out for the Big 10 Championship Game and any bowl game that the Buckeyes would play in. Nobody knew who Cardale Jones even was back then other than a few Buckeye fans and some hardcore guys like myself.
JT Barrett was sensational, but it wasn’t just him. Nor, was it just his replacement Cardale Jones, either. This team was loaded from top to bottom.
I’ve seen and heard a few people comparing this group of sophomores at Ohio State to the “Super Sophomore” group of the 1968 Buckeyes. That 1968 class was pretty incredible for old Buckeye coach Woody Hayes and this one may be similar. I am working on a blog about that very subject already. The Ohio State football recruiting class of 1967 and it’s similarities to the class of 2013.
Major factors in this national championship run were either sophomores or redshirt freshmen including JT Barrett, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, Jalin Marshall, Vonn Bell, Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Darron Lee, Billy Price, Cam Burrows, and Gareon Conley.
These guys will be sophomores and juniors this next season. Throw in an excellent recruiting class in 2014 led by super Linebacker Raekwon McMillan and this season’s top recruiting class and the Buckeyes will be contenders for years to come.
Michigan State has been a pretty tough out, to use the baseball term, the last couple of years. But, they did lose their outstanding Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi who left to take the Pittsburgh job.
Connor Cook is back at Quarterback and a very good Offensive Line will be partly back. Shilique Calhoun returned for his senior season at Defensive End and while the defense may take some time to recover, they will still be pretty solid.
But, maybe the biggest story in the Big 10 is the return of former Michigan Quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Michigan and the Big 10 sorely needed a coach like Jim Harbaugh taking over the wounded, but not yet dead, Wolverines.
Harbaugh had little time for hiring a staff and recruiting. But, he did manage to steal a top Quarterback prospect from Texas in Zach Gentry from Albuquerque, New Mexico and signed another in Alex Malzone that was already committed. My hat is off to Alex Malzone for not going elsewhere when the Wolverines brought in Gentry. A Quarterback with some guts and some heart just might beat out the more highly recruited guy coming in.
It will take some time, but a person needs to study up on just what exactly Harbaugh did at Stanford before taking the San Francisco job. Stanford was on the verge of possibly dropping football, and look at what they have done since under Harbaugh and now David Shaw.
Michigan had the 7th ranked defense last season in total yards given up and Harbaugh should improve that side of the ball as well.
Nebraska got tired of dealing with Bo Pelini and fired him at season’s end and in a strange move brought in 61 year old Mike Riley from Oregon State. The verdict on this move remains to be seen.
Wisconsin lost their head coach to Oregon State and hired another Barry Alvarez clone in Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst. Other than the 59-0 blowout the Badgers suffered against Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship, look for more of the same with Wisconsin.
Look for the more than capable Cory Clement, a 5-11, 220 speedster from Glassboro, New Jersey, to take over for Melvin Gordon. Watch the Badgers remain as good, or better, than the team that beat Auburn in the bowl game.
Wisconsin has had Quarterback problems and brought in 4 in this recruiting class unlike some other schools that have a problem and refuse to make a move.
Then, there is Penn State and James Franklin. Writing off Penn State because of the Jerry Sandusky fiasco is a huge mistake. They are off sanctions now and Franklin is a top football coach.
Franklin and his Penn State staff brought in an excellent recruiting class ranked in the top 15 in the country.
The Penn State Nittany Lions have been a powerhouse program over the years and expect them to be back and chugging along as usual really soon.
Franklin is about as good as there is out there and will prove it again soon. Penn State had a solid defense a year ago, and might still be a year or two away from a good offense. But, mark my words, they will get there soon.
Minnesota lost tough running Texas product David Cobb at Running Back, but they should still be good. Quarterback Mitch Leidner played fairly well as a sophomore.
Iowa has been pretty good since the days of Hayden Fry, but they could use an infusion of talent.
None of the other schools helped themselves much in recruiting this season including newcomers Rutgers and Maryland.
By year’s end, the Big 10 had 4 out of the top 10 defenses in the country and that’s not even including national champions, Ohio State.
Next season, and the year’s beyond, it’s not going to be a good idea to overlook the Big 10 conference. Ohio State is young and deep and talented. There’s just no way that Jim Harbaugh is not going to make Michigan extremely competitive and in a hurry. Wisconsin and Michigan State will remain strong and Penn State will surge. If Baylor deserved a playoff shot as some fans believed, then Michigan State should be right there as well since they beat Baylor.
Combine that with a resurgent USC and UCLA, and with a strong TCU and a possible re-emergence of Texas. Throw in a Clemson, who absolutely killed it in recruiting this year, and Georgia Tech and the national playoff races should be more than interesting next season and beyond. That’s all a good football fan such as myself can hope for.