Although it continues to function a reminder of school soccer’s embarrassingly disjointed and haphazard response to the challenges offered by the coronavirus pandemic, the Royal Rumble-style introduction of 1 energy convention at a time to the 2020 season — Right here come the ACC and Massive 12! Now right here comes the SEC! Now right here comes the Massive Ten! Pac-12’s up subsequent! — has allowed us to soak up and react to first impressions in small batches. There’s one thing to be stated for that.
With the Massive Ten’s first week within the books, let us take a look at what partial solutions the convention’s first seven video games offered us and what we must always, and should not, overreact to shifting ahead.
Overreaction: Michigan is a title contender
Michigan 49, Minnesota 24
The lasting reminiscence of Michigan’s 2019 season is that it ended with the Wolverines getting outscored by a mixed 91-43 by Ohio State and Alabama. It was a well-recognized feeling — they misplaced their final two video games of 2018 by a mixed 103-54 and misplaced their final three video games of 2017 and three of 4 in 2016, too. It has turn into an unlucky and defining attribute of the Jim Harbaugh period.
That distracts us from two issues, although:
1. Final 12 months apart, they normally begin the season fairly effectively.
2. Their offense was glorious down the stretch in 2019.
Michigan improved from 66th to 21st in offensive SP+ over the second half of final season, discovering a various and thrilling run sport to pair with a passing sport that did simply sufficient. However the largest query for 2020 — apart from the same old “Can they not get smoked by Ohio State this time?” — was whether or not the Wolverines might maintain final 12 months’s late development regardless of large turnover. Quarterback Shea Patterson, three of 4 main receivers and 4 beginning offensive linemen had all departed, and whereas the ability corps nonetheless returned a loaded group of operating backs and junior receiver Ronnie Bell, numerous kids have been going to have to lift their sport to proceed Michigan’s upward trajectory on O.
Beginning the season at Minnesota was an ideal, if relatively scary, check for all the brand new items. It went fairly effectively.
Michigan gained 478 yards on simply 56 offensive performs (8.5 per play). The Wolverines had by no means averaged higher than 6.5 per play towards a ranked opponent within the Harbaugh period.
The four-headed hydra of sophomore backs Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet, freshman Blake Corum and senior Chris Evans mixed for 20 carries, 192 yards and 4 touchdowns. For bonus factors, Haskins additionally brilliantly stuffed an early Minnesota pretend punt try.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Milton was in whole management, finishing 15 of 22 passes for 225 yards, a landing and no interceptions. Omitting a lone sack, he rushed seven occasions for 60 yards and one other rating.
9 totally different Wolverines caught passes, seven of them freshmen or sophomores. Bell led the best way with 4 receptions for 74 yards, however 4 different WRs mixed on 5 for 54, two tight ends caught three for 41 and two RBs caught three for 36.
Michigan’s protection logged 5 sacks and 5 passes defensed (one interception, 4 breakups) in 31 Tanner Morgan go makes an attempt. Gophers star receiver Rashod Bateman had a 38-yard reception, however eight different receptions gained solely 63 yards.
Michigan raced to a 21-10 lead late within the first quarter, stretched it to 35-17 late within the second, and by no means let Minnesota get nearer than 11 from there. This was precisely the type of confidence-boosting efficiency a younger however clearly gifted workforce wanted. The Wolverines performed offended, centered ball.
Counterpoint: Minnesota’s protection won’t be superb.
The Gophers have been projected to fall from 26th to 44th in defensive SP+ after dropping a majority of final 12 months’s starters. One sport in, they’re 67th. Amongst Michigan’s seven remaining opponents, solely Maryland’s protection ranks decrease. The angle, physicality and deep ability corps utilization have been all extraordinarily encouraging for Michigan and second-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, however the challenges will enhance from right here.
Plus, Michigan’s protection, although disruptive, received pushed round a bit itself. Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim rushed 26 occasions for 140 yards, and Morgan accomplished not solely the 38-yarder to Bateman but in addition a 45-yarder to Chris Autman-Bell. Alabama has proved that when your offense goes from positive to elite, you’ll be able to afford a bit little bit of defensive slippage, however future dates towards Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State will inform us how a lot slippage we’re speaking about right here.
Overreaction: Yep, Ohio State continues to be invincible
Ohio State 52, Nebraska 17
How did Justin Fields begin out in his try to make up floor on Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Mac Jones (and Mertz!) within the Heisman race? By going 20-for-21 for 276 yards and two scores. Whereas he took extra sacks than Mertz, he additionally rushed 12 non-sack occasions for 75 yards and a rating. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson mixed for 13 catches and 233 yards. After Nebraska put collectively a few good drives and tied the rating at 14-14 within the second quarter, Ohio State calmly laid the hammer down, outscoring the Huskers 38-Three over the ultimate 35 minutes.
Justin Fields tosses a pair of touchdowns and provides one other on the bottom as Ohio State cruises by Nebraska.
SP+ has ranked the Buckeyes first in FBS all season however projected solely a 23-point Buckeyes win. They topped that by 12 factors. They’re each bit as invincible-looking as Clemson and Alabama then?
Most likely. SP+ initiatives the Buckeyes as double-digit favorites towards each remaining top-10 (per SP+) opponents — 10.Zero factors over Penn State, 15.5 over Michigan — and favors them by a median of 31.2 factors of their different 5 video games. Surprises occur, however it can take a reasonably large shock only for the Buckeyes to expertise a very shut sport between now and, at minimal, the Massive Ten title sport.
Counterpoint: The Buckeyes’ strains weren’t amazingly spectacular.
It’s important to squint to search out causes for concern given the percentages above, however there have been a minimum of minor questions in regards to the Ohio State offensive and defensive strains heading into 2020, and neither performed at a crazy-high degree.
Fields certainly received sacked thrice (although sacks ought to be attributed fairly a bit to the QB, too), and backs Trey Sermon and Grasp Teague III gained solely 89 yards in 23 carries (3.9 per carry). Ohio State’s solely rush of 20-plus yards got here from backup quarterback Jack Miller III late in rubbish time.
On the opposite aspect of the ball, Nebraska’s run sport discovered much more success than we’re used to seeing towards Ohio State. Quarterback Adrian Martinez and QB/RB Luke McCaffrey mixed for 18 non-sack carries for 174 yards, and regardless that lead operating again Dedrick Mills managed solely 25 yards in 9 carries, Nebraska’s speeding success price on the afternoon was 67% (greater than 20 share factors over the nationwide common) even earlier than rubbish time.
Now, Nebraska’s an odd matchup due to Martinez’s mobility and McCaffrey’s unusual versatility. Ohio State did sack Nebraska thrice and restricted the Huskers to a few factors of their remaining eight possessions. However the bar is basically, actually excessive for the Buckeyes, and their line play did not fairly clear it.
Overreaction: Graham Mertz is a Heisman contender
Wisconsin 45, Illinois 7
[Editor’s note: There are reports that Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz tested positive for COVID-19. If confirmed, he will have to miss a minimum of 21 days, according to the Big Ten’s protocols for athletes who test positive.]
When Wisconsin signed blue-chipper Mertz in 2019, it gave us an opportunity to ponder what Wisconsin’s offense would possibly appear like with a real star at QB. Whereas the Alex Hornibrooks and Jack Coans of the world are or have been higher than they in all probability get credit score for, we’ve not seen actually elite quarterback play from the Badgers because the one 12 months Russell Wilson was behind middle.
Mertz redshirted final 12 months whereas backing up the aforementioned underrated Coan, however Coan suffered a foot harm in fall camp — it was really fall camp this 12 months — and Mertz took over. Behold, a Wally Pipp situation.
All Mertz did was full his first 17 passes for 214 yards. After Garrett Groshek dropped a brief go for Mertz’s first incompletion, Mertz accomplished three extra passes earlier than calling it a day. Last passing line: 20-for-21 for 248 yards and 5 scores.
Graham Mertz’s first-game go plot. Wisconsin did a fantastic job of stretching Illinois huge and giving him simple early confidence-builders, then staying a step forward from there.
(Once more: crimson = comp, yellow = TD, blue = INC, and no I haven’t got any management over the colours.) pic.twitter.com/D2IwuLFNmK
— Invoice Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) October 25, 2020
Head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph arrange an ideal plan for relieving Mertz in and constructing his confidence. Within the first quarter, when delayed, that they had him throwing fast, brief passes to Groshek alongside the appropriate sideline. It gave Groshek some yards-after-catch alternatives and caught the Badgers again as much as the chains. Mertz threw just one first-quarter go greater than 9 yards downfield — a 19-yarder over the center to Danny Davis III — however as Wisconsin constructed area between itself and the Illini on the scoreboard, the Badgers started to open issues up a bit. He accomplished two downfield passes to tight finish Jake Ferguson, one down the left sideline to Kendric Pryor and a beautiful 53-yard over-the-top bomb to Davis for a landing.
Granted, this efficiency one way or the other tied for under the second-best Whole QBR ranking of the weekend within the Massive Ten — Mertz’s 96.Eight was matched by Northwestern’s Peyton Ramsey and topped by Ohio State’s Justin Fields (97.7) — however this was every part Badgers followers might have probably dreamed of, after which some.
Counterpoint: There’s movie on the market now. And will we be frightened in regards to the run sport?
It goes with out saying that Illinois did not acquit itself all that effectively, however the Illini have been in a troublesome spot: Wisconsin was breaking out a golden-armed new toy, and there was no actual movie on him. The Badgers stole yards and simple passes from a number of ideas they in all probability cannot rely on working all that a lot shifting ahead.
If opponents overcompensate for what they noticed from Mertz final week, good playcalling can take benefit. However there weren’t all that many dangers within the go plot above, and we do not know what’s going to occur with Mertz when the diploma of issue will get ramped up a bit. He would possibly proceed to thrive, however he would possibly falter like many well-touted redshirt freshmen have earlier than him.
Additionally, passing downs might turn into a priority if Wisconsin does not run the ball higher. Groshek, Nakia Watson and sophomore Isaac Guerendo carried 43 occasions for 168 yards, a mediocre 3.9 yards per carry. In 29 first-down rushes, Badgers ball carriers gained greater than 6 yards solely 4 occasions and gained 2 yards or fewer 10 occasions. And that was towards an Illinois line that misplaced all 4 of final 12 months’s starters.
Enchancment within the run sport will tackle large significance shifting ahead, each as a result of you do not need Mertz having to throw towards the higher Massive Ten defenses whereas always delayed and since there’s an opportunity Mertz misses the following few video games.
Overreaction: Northwestern is a West contender (and Purdue is likely to be, too)
Northwestern 43, Maryland 3
Purdue 24, Iowa 20
On Maryland’s first drive of the season, new beginning QB Taulia Tagovailoa accomplished 6 of seven passes, and the Terps drove 56 yards in 12 performs, ultimately kicking a 33-yard subject purpose. First rate towards a possible top-10 protection.
The subsequent 54 minutes did not go fairly as effectively. Northwestern gained 537 yards in 83 snaps (6.5 yards per play) and scored 43 factors. Maryland: 37 performs, 151 yards (4.1 per play), no factors. The Wildcats’ new offense, helmed by coordinator Mike Bajakian and quarterback Peyton Ramsey, hogged the ball and scored on eight of its first 10 possessions, and Northwestern cruised.
The assault regarded lots like what Bajakian’s Boston Faculty offense regarded like final 12 months: numerous bunched formations, numerous physicality and quantity of tempo. With Isaiah Bowser making an attempt to grind out powerful yards between the tackles (he had 23 carries for simply 70 yards), different backs repeatedly discovered the nook — Drake Anderson, Evan Hull and Cam Porter mixed for 172 yards in simply 16 carries — and 7 gamers caught between two and 5 passes.
With Bajakian and Ramsey, the Wildcats possess two issues they most definitely didn’t have final 12 months: an id and competence at QB.
Counterpoint: Maryland is unhealthy.
Maryland is the lowest-ranked workforce, per SP+, within the convention, and blowing the Terps out doesn’t suggest Northwestern is all of a sudden on equal footing with Wisconsin. But when the Badgers falter, Northwestern is firmly ensconced in a crowded tier of potential contenders.
Additionally in that tier: Purdue.
Massive Ten West SP+ rankings:
4. Wisconsin (+25.5 adjusted factors per sport)
30. Northwestern (+9.9)
32. Iowa (+9.3)
33. Minnesota (+9.2)
36. Purdue (+7.7)
42. Nebraska (+6.4)
75. Illinois (-2.5)
Solely 3.5 adjusted factors per sport separate the No. 2 and No. 6 groups within the division for the time being, and never solely is Purdue on that record following a comeback win over Iowa, the Boilermakers additionally have already got a win over one other workforce in stated tier. And so they scored it with out each their head coach (Jeff Brohm is at the moment in quarantine) and finest participant (Rondale Moore, who did not play for unspecified causes).
Purdue trailed for many of the second half, however after a late fumble by Iowa’s Mekhi Sargent, the Boilermakers drove 72 yards and took a 24-20 lead on a 6-yard go from Aidan O’Connell to David Bell (13 catches, 121 yards, three TDs). Iowa shortly turned the ball over on downs after 4 misfires from quarterback Spencer Petras, and the minor upset was full. Issues are wanting up in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Counterpoint: Purdue’s profitable recipe is not notably sustainable.
My postgame win expectancy measure — which takes all the important thing, predictive stats from a given sport, tosses them into the air and says “With these stats, you could possibly have anticipated to win this sport X% of the time — noticed solely a 19% likelihood of a Purdue win. Iowa outgained the Boilermakers by 6.1 yards per play to five.0, and other than a 33-yard run by Zander Horvath, Purdue created virtually no huge performs. Iowa was slicing its approach down the sphere for the game-clinching factors earlier than Sargent’s fumble.
Purdue was solely so good, in different phrases. Nonetheless, the Boilermakers did rise per SP+, and so they do theoretically get Brohm and Moore again quickly. There’s loads of motive to assume the Boilers will maintain their very own within the division. Now we simply have to attend and see if Wisconsin is excited about dropping or not.
Overreaction: Penn State was overrated
Indiana 36, Penn State 35
Primarily as a result of few energy convention groups exterior of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and possibly Notre Dame have appeared excited about taking part in at a top-10 degree this 12 months, we have already seen fairly a number of top-10 groups endure upsets — 5 have already fallen by the hands of unranked groups, as many as did so all of final season.
By definition, dropping to a workforce voters do not assume is among the 25 finest in FBS fairly clearly proves you are not one of many nation’s 10 finest groups, proper? Maybe. However not each loss is created equally.
Indiana upsets Penn State after the groups travel within the remaining two minutes and have the sport determined by a number of inches on a 2-point try.
Counterpoint: Indiana’s win was extremely unlikely.
That postgame win expectancy measure I referenced above? For Indiana on Saturday, it was 5%. PSU gave up solely 100 whole yards within the sport’s first three quarters and outgained the Hoosiers by 277 for the sport (488-211). Penn State generated 11 extra first downs and loved a hit price benefit of 10 share factors (46%-36%). Nineteen occasions out of 20, that is sufficient.
Coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions fell due to a wacky mixture of first-half turnovers, special-teams miscues, penalties, an unintended landing and the closest “Did he rating or did not he?” 2-point conversion you will ever see. This was the very definition of a low-percentage win for Indiana, although after so many shut calls lately, you could possibly make the case that nobody deserved certainly one of these wins greater than coach Tom Allen’s Hoosiers.
This is not the type of loss that SP+ tends to punish you for very a lot. The Nittany Lions fell solely from fifth to eighth within the sport’s aftermath, although they’re going to must each get better emotionally and play twice as effectively in the event that they wish to keep away from getting roughed up by top-ranked Ohio State on Saturday. On paper, PSU is about what we thought, however an 0-2 begin will problem nearly anybody’s resilience.
Overreaction: Rutgers is respectable!
Rutgers 38, Michigan State 27
Really, let’s simply get the counterpoint out of the best way already:
Counterpoint: Um, seven turnovers.
That is proper, Rutgers’ huge win over Michigan State — its first convention highway victory in additional than three calendar years and its first win over an influence convention workforce in 24 tries — was pushed partly by a massively unsustainable turnover margin. The Spartans outgained the Scarlet Knights by 93 yards and 0.6 yards per play however fumbled six occasions, dropping 5, and threw two interceptions. Rutgers very sportingly gave MSU three turnovers of its personal, however of the Scarlet Knights’ 5 landing drives, three have been beneath 30 yards due to turnovers.
Let’s not stomp throughout a fantastic story, although. Certain, that degree of turnover ridiculousness will not proceed, and certain, Michigan State would possibly transform fairly unhealthy. However everybody who performs school soccer deserves a win like this often, and Rutgers’ time had come. Even when it was pushed principally by State’s whole lack of ability to carry on to the soccer, Rutgers performed with a degree of perception we’ve not seen shortly, and the Scarlet Knights’ postgame win expectancy was 63%, which suggests this wasn’t solely turnover-driven.
Plus, whereas solely a few different non-Rutgers Massive Ten groups grade out worse than Michigan State for the time being (Illinois, Maryland), Rutgers will get to play each of them! A 3-5 begin to Greg Schiano’s second head-coaching tenure is not out of the query.
This uncommon school soccer season has already managed one seemingly unimaginable feat: It has given Rutgers followers hope.