The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure, the conference added a team. True, we now have divisional play and a championship game. Yes, some long-tenured coaches are gone. But you can always count on the “Big Ten Numbers” – back for a fifth season. With no further ado (for no other reason than, in the first week of the season, I’m a little too busy for much in the way of ado), let’s get to them.
It all starts on Thursday night with Wisconsin hosting UNLV. The numbers tell us that it likely won’t be interesting for long.
116th: The Rebels were 116th nationally in scoring defense last year. If you’ve lost count, there are 120 teams. It is not a good sign for Bobby Hauck’s team, particularly when combined with this digit:
70: The Badgers tallied at least 70 points in a game three times last year. Before that, they had done so just twice since 1905.
There is one game the next night as well as another defending Big Ten co-Champ makes its season debut – Michigan State hosting Youngstown State, in a game you can see on BTN.
The Spartans will look to re-establish the run game that disappeared down the stretch last year.
225, 89.7: Michigan State averaged just 89.7 rushing yards per game over its last seven games last year. This after the Spartans averaged 225 in their first six.
The run game is a key for Northwestern as well when they visit Boston College, and it may be all that much more important considering Dan Persa’s uncertain status. The ‘Cats’ ground game has been a good gauge for them over the last two years.
12-2, 3-9: NU is 12-2 when equaling or outgaining its opponent on the ground over the last two years. The ‘Cats are 3-9 when they do not.
NU was still trying to figure out its running back situation when we visited camp – which does not bode well against the Eagles.
82.8, 2.7, 20: BC allowed a national low 82.8 yard per game rushing last year and a national low 2.7 yards per carry. They have gone 20 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher – the longest active streak in the nation.
Speaking of streaking – how ‘bout the Gophers?! No, it was not a particularly good year in Minneapolis, but at least it ended well:
1973: The Gophers won their last two games last year – topping Illinois and Iowa. It was the first time they had finished the season on a two-game win streak since 1973.
And in their season opener they catch a team that’s down – at least by its lofty standards.
5: USC lost 5 games last year. It was the first time the Trojans had dropped that many in a season since 2001.
That Iowa loss to the Gophers came by a mere three points, which was kind of par for the course for Kirk Ferentz’s team.
3.6: Iowa’s five defeats came by a total of 18 points – a 3.6-point average margin of defeat. That was the slimmest margin among all teams nationally that lost at least two games.
They don’t figure to be in a close one against Tennessee Tech.
106-10: The Golden Eagles played two FBS team last year in Arkansas and TCU. They lost by a combined 106-10. They are coached by Watson Brown, the former UAB Coach who is the brother of Texas Head Coach Mack Brown.
Speaking of Mack and the Longhorns, their conference is down a couple of teams, thanks in part to Nebraska’s departure for the Big Ten. The Huskers don’t figure to face much of a challenge in their season opener from Chattanooga, meaning they will likely extend this number:
25: The Huskers have won a national best 25 straight season-debuts. They last dropped their first game in 1985 – falling to Florida State.
While we’re on the topic of debuts new Ohio State coach Luke Fickell takes over for Jim Tressel. History is certainly on Fickell’s side.
1892: The last Ohio State Coach to lose his debut was Jack Ryder, whose 1892 team got crushed by his alma mater, Oberlin, 40-4. Ryder made $15 a week. You get what you pay for.
A new coach at Indiana as well as Kevin Wilson takes over. There is one trend he’d like to see carry over from the old regime, starting with Saturday’s game in Indianapolis against Ball State.
14-0: Since 2004 the Hoosiers are 14-0 in games played on or before September 15th.
Michigan also has a new coach, and also faces a MAC team in Western Michigan. This should actually be a decent test for what was a beleaguered Wolverines defense last year:
41.3: The Broncos averaged 41.3 points in their final three games last year and tallied better than 32 points per game on the season.
Among the many keys goals for improving the Wolverines’ defense – cutting down on big plays.
211: Michigan gave up 211 plays of 10 or more yards last season. Only three teams nationally allowed more.
Michigan fans are hoping their defense can show the same kind of one-year improvement that Illinois’ did last year, when the Illini moved up 48 spots in scoring defense nationally from the previous season. One of the explanations for that improvement is their ability to deal with difficult situations.
3 of 23: Of the 23 non-overtime drives that Illinois’ opponents started in Illini territory last season, just 3 of them ended in touchdowns.
Among the Illini’s most overwhelming wins last year, a 44-10 manhandling of Purdue. That low total on their side of the scoreboard was an ongoing issue for Danny Hope’s team.
31: The Boilers didn’t have a single game over 31 points last year. They had surpassed that total at least four times in each of the prior six seasons. That was due in large part to all of their injury issues.
4: Purdue started 4 different QB’s last year – a first in program history. No one else in the Big Ten started more than two. Unfortunately, the injury problems have already reared their ugly head his year. Presumed starter Rob Henry is out with a torn ACL so Caleb Terbush will start against Middle Tennessee. Terbush becomes the Boilers’ fifth starting QB in the last year.
Penn State is unclear on who its starting QB will be but, regardless of who it is, they’ll need to get better in the run game to return to championship level.
36, 16: In 2008, when Penn State played in the Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions had 36 rushing touchdowns. Just two years later that total had been cut by more than half as they finished with 16 last year.
The Nittany Lions are one of six Big Ten teams that will make its season debut on BTN this weekend. Don’t forget – Howard, Gerry and I will have pre-game and post-game coverage for all of the games. Can’t wait to get started!
Follow Revsine on Twitter @BTNDaveRevsine