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College Football Weekend Preview: Top-Heavy Big Ten Has Weak Midsection

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College Football Weekend Preview: Top-Heavy Big Ten Has Weak Midsection

The Big Ten has become college football's punching bag in recent seasons.

Formerly a heavyweight in the national landscape, now the conference is a welterweight as the SEC has risen to prominence with seven straight national championships and an eighth in the crosshairs.

It's the SEC that has kept the Big Ten down, typically serving up their annual beatdown in the postseason with inter-conference matchups on New Year's Day in the Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowls.

The Pac-12 has taken it's share of shots at the Big Ten too, with three straight losses by Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl (one against TCU).

Plus the West Coast got the better of the Midwest in 2013 with UCLA pasting Nebraska, Washington taking care of Illinois and Arizona State getting by Wisconsin, albeit in controversial fashion. Only Ohio State and Northwestern posted wins against the Pac-12, both against bottom-dweller Cal.

The Big Ten, however, might slowly be on the rise with three blue chip teams this season in Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Look no further than Ohio State's 23-game winning streak, Michigan State's top-ranked defense in the nation and Wisconsin being one of the nation's hottest teams.

These three teams can go toe-to-toe with nearly any team in the nation (outside of Alabama and Florida State) and may help the Big Ten get some swagger back during the bowl season.

The problem is that the second tier of the Big Ten is as weak as ever, not helped by sanctions placed on Penn State following the regrettable Jerry Sandusky scandal.

But Penn State is hardly alone. Former bluebloods Michigan and Nebraska are wallowing in mediocrity.

The Wolverines don't stand a chance against Ohio State this weekend, not with an offense that has come up with less than 200 yards in three out of their last four games. And the Cornhuskers don't figure to improve until Bo Pelini is removed from the sidelines.

Iowa has been average, while Minnesota has been the one of the few teams that has risen above expectations, becoming an eight-win team despite the health issues to head coach Jerry Kill.

Then there's four teams that won't go bowling at all this season: Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue.

Gaining back respectability isn't going to come overnight, but the first step will be for the top three teams in the Big Ten to take care of business in the postseason. All three will play good teams in the bowl games, either in the Rose Bowl, against top-tier teams in the SEC or a potential BCS bowl game.

The next step will be for the midsection of the conference to get back to playing good football, and there's no reason programs like Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa can't get there. Only excuses stand in the way.

 

Where College GameDay Is At

There might be more on the line than ever before in Saturday's Iron Bowl, almost hard to believe for a game with such a deep and rich history as Auburn-Alabama.

The SEC West title and a berth in the conference championship game are at stake with the loser effectively eliminated from national-title contention, and ESPN will be there to take it all the pageantry through its weekly pregame show.

Despite the game being in Auburn, there's a reason Alabama is 10.5-point favorites. The Crimson Tide methodically eliminate opponents from week to week with consistent formula, displaying an efficient offense and a smothering defense.

The Alabama defense will have its work cut out this week, trying to stop an Auburn running game that ranks first in the SEC, averaging 320.2 yards per game, largely due to the work of running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall.

Thus far this season, Mason has 1,153 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, and Marshall has proved himself as one of the nation's better running quarterbacks.

But where Auburn will run into trouble is that Marshall is no Johnny Manziel. He won't be able to make plays through the air against a secondary featuring safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, and when he runs the option, linebacker C.J. Mosley and company will be better able to contain him than any defense to date.

When Alabama has the ball, quarterback A.J. McCarron shouldn't have trouble passing the ball against an Auburn pass defense ranked second to last in the SEC, allowing 253.7 yards per game.

Prediction: Auburn might find some early momentum behind a raucous crowd, but it will slowly dissipate as Alabama dispatches yet another foe. 35-14, Roll Tide. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS.

 

The Wisconsin Connection

With no chance of reaching the Big Ten title game for Wisconsin and no bowl game in store for Penn State, there's little to generate interest from a national audience for Saturday's game between Leaders division rivals, so both teams will have to be internally motivated.

For the Badgers, they'll be looking to win as convincingly as possible, their last opportunity to sway voters and become ranked in the top 14 of the BCS standings, a prerequisite to earn an at-large BCS berth, along with nine victories.

As for Penn State, the game against Wisconsin becomes a de facto bowl of sorts seeing as they're ineligible for the postseason with little other than pride on the line.

Among the featured attractions on Saturday is good opportunity to see a pair of wide receivers in perhaps the final regular games of their careers in Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Penn State's Allen Robinson.

Abbrederis is a senior and will be gone at season's end, off to the NFL with a solid season helping to boost his draft stock. A good performance against the Nittany Lions could propel him to a 1,000-yard season as he currently sits at 916 receiving yards to go along with seven touchdowns.

He's not first-round material, but Abbrederis could be as high as a second-day pick in next spring's NFL draft, depending on how he looks in the all-star game circuit and how he tests at the combine.

Robinson is a junior, but there's reason to believe he could declare and be as a high as a first round draft choice in just a few months. Excellent height and his ability to leap over defenders are his calling cards, making Robinson the best receiver in the conference with 89 receptions for 1,310 yards and six touchdowns in 2013.

Despite the best efforts of Robinson, Penn State is a middling team in pretty much all facets of the game, both on offense and defense.

Prediction: As usual, Wisconsin rumbles behind the efforts of Melvin Gordon and James White, each gaining over 100 yards, while the Badgers defense holds up its end of the bargain. Final score, 31-10, On Wisconsin. Kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPN.

 

What Happened Before Saturday

Several random thoughts from the Thanksgiving weekday games...

  • Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch set the single-game FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 321 in a victory over Western Michigan on Tuesday. No player is more important to their team than Lynch, who has led NIU to consecutive undefeated regular seasons. He has my non-existant vote for the Heisman Trophy, unless Jameis Winston is found innocent before the vote.
  • It was a nice first season for Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, but the Rebels showed he still has a ways to go after losing to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Credit Dan Mullen for getting a win over his rival, but the Bulldogs can't seem to get over the hump and challenge the SEC's best.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (14) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Well for Packer fans its about time to start looking at the Draft. This is a good weekend to start watching prospects. Yesterday I watched Washington and Washington State game.

I came away with 3 prospects.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE could be a beast in the next level. 6-6 TE, who can block and plays the ball very well in the air.

Keith Price, a mobile QB, who has a strong enough arm. He seems to make good decisions, although the first half he wasn't as good as he was in the 2nd half. He has a high TD/INT ratio, which i like. Could be a good developmental QB.

Bishop Sankey, RB. He is listed at 5'10, 203 lbs. He is a Junior, but this year he has 1700 rushing yards. He is quick, fast, strong. I saw him break tackles, made people miss, ran away from people and caught the ball really well. Another thing that I liked is he ran out of the Shotgun formation a lot, just like how the Packers use their RB's.
I don't know what his draft value is right now, but if the Packers got him in the mid rounds I would consider drafting him.

Packers don't really have a draft need for RB next year with Lacy, Starks, Harris, and Franklin. But at the same time, what is Franklin's injury? Will Harris be able to come back and be the player we saw last year? Will Starks be back?

Albert Lingerfeld's picture

Good article Brian. I was thinking this year as I followed teams like Michigan, it used to be one or two powder puff tune up games a year - not including ND. Before you got into playing the better teams.
Now you take a look at the league itself and were playing a couple powder puffs,then Purdue,Indiana,Northwestern, Minnesota, Penn State and you can be 7-0 and not played anyone.
A team can cruise through a season before facing a formidable SEC opponent in a bowl gam3 and being embarrassed.
That and the fact population shifts have sent the masses South, and they now have the bigger pool to choose from. A lot of kids don't want to stray to far from home, but most want to play on the big stage and that's the SEC.

Joe's picture

Packers need a shut down CB
linebackers that can cover in passing game
Offensive lineman that can pull and trap in the running game
Backup QB that can win games when Rodgers is unavailable
OT if Bulaga or Sherrod can not be the players they were drafted to be
Replacing EDS due to consistent knee troubles
Finally addressing the safety position and do all the above in the upcoming offseason

RC Packer Fan's picture

Watching the Ohio State and Michigan game.

I am really starting to think it would be nice a have a dual threat backup QB to Rodgers.
A guy like Braxton Miller would be nice.

If the backup were to have to come in, it would be nice to provide something different than what the defense has game planned for.

I am writing this during the Ohio State, Michigan game. I think I'm going to watch Clemson later to watch Tajh Boyd.

lennysmalls's picture

After seeing Wisconsin lay an egg at home against Penn State, I'm questioning if your premise that Wisconsin is a blue chip team. Fact is, Penn State looked as every bit as talented, certainly more so at QB than Stave, who's below average. Pity, because a team that allowed a guy to f* boys in the ass has f*d the Badgers two years in a row. Guess they'll be happy not to see Penn State for a while. And guess their illustrious defensive genius Dave Aranda won't be getting a promotion anytime soon.

Bearmeat's picture

classy.

And no - not one big 10 team is a blue chip program. Wisconsin is occasionally a top 25 program. That's about it.

JJB's picture

Badgers got Packerish on us fans but Ala/Aub was awesome game

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

That was just a stupid good game. As was OSU @ Michigan. Great football.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Still trying to figure out exactly what that was that I watched go down in Madison? The defensive confusion, all game was, well, confusing. An unguarded WR for the TD? Repeatedly having issues shuffling guys on and off the field? A down where we had only 9 defensive players? If not for the Thanksgiving day debacle, I could honestly say that was the worst coaching I've seen in years. And the weird thing is, those problems weren't there all year, you would think that mental errors and the like would happen early in the season when switching schemes... But they show up now? Odd, to say the least.

Stave was horrible today. He was high pretty much all game, had he connected with Abbrederis on half the balls he sailed over his head, Bucky wins.

Speaking of Abbrederis, does anybody else think he has a chance to legitimately be the next Welker? I sure do.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Abbredarus is like 6'1, 6'2... I would say he is closer to Jordy Nelson then Welker.

I wouldn't mind seeing Abbredarus in Green and Gold. that is for sure.

He can return punts, which would be nice. He is a great route runner. I am guessing he will be a 3rd-4th round pick. Just guessing.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Idk, when I watch him run his routes I see a lot more welker than Nelson.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

I didn't realize he was that tall though.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, he is taller. I agree with his route running ability, and his ability to play the slot. I like him a lot actually. He makes tough catches and he has an ability to get deep a lot. Yesterday that double move he made was a thing of beauty.

And this year playing against Ohio State, he schooled Roby, who is considered to be a high round draft pick.

I like Abberdarus a lot. Hopefully he stays in state.

Stroh's picture

Abbredarus would be like a poor mans Jennings IMO. Doesn't have Nelson's size and physicality, nor does he have NFL deep speed imo. He catches his share of punts but he doesn't do much on returns, kinda like Jordy in that regard. Decent pick in the 4th or so, not before that tho.

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