Big Ten Hot Takes: Ten thoughts on the football season so far
Another week, another round of big stories from the Big Ten, as an athletic director was fired and a school named a permanent head coach. Here are some hard takes.
1. Last year, the Big Ten saw its two hottest coordinators land head coaching jobs. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman got the Houston job, where he remains an very hot commodity for a 9-0 Cougars squad. And Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi got the Pitt job, as the Panthers are 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the ACC in 2015. What Big Ten assistants could be next to move into a corner office? The top target may be Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner.
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2. This just wasn’t meant to be Corey Clement’s season. The Wisconsin running back came into 2015 hailed as one of the Big Ten’s top runners coming off 949 yards rushing in 2014. But, his season went sideways before it got going, thanks to a sports hernia suffered in camp that has limited him to 19 carries and 131 yards rushing this season. But things took a bizarre turn this week with news that Clement suffered a lacerated hand in an off-field incident trying to break up a scuffle. You can’t make up stuff like this, people. Reminds me of when Montee Ball got jumped a few years back.
3. For me, perhaps the most telling stat in football is rushing yards allowed. If a team can’t stop the run, it’s gonna struggle. Some stats lie. Not this stat. The Big Ten stats bear that out. The bottom five teams in the Big Ten in rush defense will miss a bowl or are in peril of missing the postseason: Minnesota (152.9 ypg); Rutgers (155.2 ypg); Maryland (161.8 ypg); Indiana (174.0 ypg); Purdue (205.1 ypg). The ability to stop the run is the ultimate test of toughness and machismo.
4. Without a doubt, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz will be the runaway winner for Big Ten Coach of the Year. But who should be the runner-up? Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh? Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst? Ohio State’s Urban Meyer? I think it should be Harbaugh, who inherited a 5-7 team and has it at 7-2 (4-1 Big Ten) and in contention for the Big Ten East title. This is a Wolverines squad that lost to Rutgers and Maryland last year. That seems unthinkable now with Harbaugh wearing a head set.
5. Why isn’t Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott getting more Heisman love? Most straw polls still have players like Alabama’s Derrick Henry, LSU’s Leonard Fournette ahead of Elliott. Even Baylor wideout Corey Coleman and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey often get more hype than Elliott. The junior is the hub of the Ohio State offense and top player on arguably the best in the America that has won 22 games in a row. Elliott has 1,244 yards rushing (6.4 ypc) and 14 rushing TDs, eclipsing the 100-yard rushing mark in each of the last 14 games.
6. Purdue is in peril of having just one Big Ten win this season. That would mean the Boilermakers would have had two Big Ten victories the last three years. The last team to struggle as badly was Illinois from 2003-06, when it won just two league games in four seasons. Then, in 2007, the Illini broke through with a trip to the Rose Bowl. So, there’s hope for Purdue, right?
7. On the subject of Purdue, A.D. Morgan Burke pledged his unwavering support for Darrell Hazell on BTN this week. It was a needed boost for Hazell, who is still trying to get the Boilermakers on track in his third year in West Lafayette. As many have pointed out, Hazell’s contract might play a factor in Burke’s support of Hazell, whose buyout by December will be $6.775 million. That’s a lot of cash. It’s also worth noting that Hazell has just three years left on his original six-year deal. Will he need an extension for recruiting purposes?
8. I hope fans are enjoying this historic run by Ohio State. It’s really quite remarkable. The Buckeyes haven’t lost a Big Ten regular-season game under Urban Meyer. Under Meyer, the Buckeyes are 29-0 against Big Ten opponents in the regular season. With a win against Illinois, the Buckeyes would have their 30th consecutive regular-season conference win, which would be the longest single conference (meaning the streak didn’t span two different conferences) win streak in FBS history. Ohio State is tied with Florida State, which won 29 straight ACC games from 1992-95. But the ACC the Seminoles ran roughshod over wasn’t of the same quality as the Big Ten that Ohio State has been dominating.
9. The lid finally blew off the athletic department at Illinois with the firing of A.D. Mike Thomas, who was ensnared and taken down in the wake of an investigation into player mistreatment. Now what? The school has an interim athletic director and an interim football coach in Bill Cubit who is one win from guiding his program to bowl eligibility. I hope Cubit can land the full-time gig to bring some stability to the football team. Cubit is smart, personable, a team player and hard-worker. That’s the framework for any successful person.
10. Speaking of interim head coaches, Minnesota no longer has one, taking the “interim” tag off Tracy Claeys and making him the full-time coach. A good move by a university that like Illinois is operating with an interim A.D. Beth Goetz, who has done a good job leading the department since taking over in less-than-ideal circumstance in August after the ouster of Norwood Teague. I hope like Claeys that Goetz can get the full-time job in the Twin Cities as the school embarks on the construction of an ambitious Athletic Village in hopes of taking the department to the next level.