The BIG Blog: Reviewing The 2017 Big Ten Football Season
It seems silly to regard a football season as a disappointment for a conference when they place three teams in the top nine of the final College Football Playoff Rankings and all three land spots in New Year’s Six Bowls. It seems silly that a conference that featured two of the top six in the Heisman Trophy voting (one of them a true freshman) should feel that the season was somewhat of a letdown.
But yet, that’s likely to be the predominant (albeit private) feeling may of those closely associated with BIG football will carry into the holidays.
I expect many of those folks to be spending time by the fire sipping egg nog and thinking of what might have been….
What if Ohio State had shown up for their game at Iowa instead of getting steamrolled 55-24?
What if Penn State could have made just one more play in Columbus, enough to hold on to a once 18-point lead instead of losing 39-38 to the Buckeyes?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
What if the Nittany Lions had made just one more play the next week in East Lansing instead of losing in OT to Michigan State, 27-24?
What if Wisconsin hadn’t committing a holding penalty on their last drive against Ohio State in the BIG championship game, putting them in a 2nd-and-20 situation they were unable to convert?
As recently as late October, I was touting the possibility of two schools from both the SEC and BIG making the playoff-I get half credit for that one. Clearly Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin finished just barely on the wrong side of the margin for error that caused them to fall short of a playoff berth.
Even among non-playoff contenders, the what-if game will likely be played out over the coming weeks.
What if Northwestern had not taken a late safety and were able to complete a miraculous comeback to win at Wisconsin, which would have given them the West Division title?
What if Michigan State could have made one more play instead of losing in 3 OT to Northwestern 39-31 and posted a 10-2 record?
What if Indiana had held on to their halftime lead in the opener against Ohio State? Would that have given them the confidence to win the four conference games they subsequently lost by eight points or less when winning even one of them would have put them in a bowl?
What if Minnesota had a passing game? If they had turned around one of their three conference losses by seven points or less, they would have been bowl eligible.
And of course, what if Maryland QB’s had stayed healthy? Could the Terps have kept the momentum from their thrilling opening week win at Texas?
Given the overall success of the BIG, it’s a shame that much of the postseason focus will be on what could have been. That what happens when expectations are very high and results don’t match them.
While the SEC can claim conference superiority based on both Alabama and Georgia earning playoff berths, the BIG certainly held its own among the other Power 5 conferences and has a lot to be proud of:
Ohio State’s J. T. Barrett leaves Columbus as the most prolific and winning QB in school history.
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley did not have the numbers to win the Heisman, but I’d put his highlight reel up against anyone in the nation. As good as he is on Saturdays, he may be even better on Sundays.
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor needs 79 yards in the Orange Bowl to break the all-time freshman single-season rushing record. He’s the latest, and perhaps the best, in a long line of stud Badger runners.
Although it was the day the BIG’s playoff hopes began to unravel, Ohio State’s 39-38 win over Penn State was one of the best games of the year.
Michigan State demonstrated that last year’s 3-9 record was a fluke, bouncing back to go 9-3 this year and reestablish themselves as one of the top programs in the BIG.
The BIG is the epitome of coaching stability. There were only two new coaches this year, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Minnesota’s P. J. Fleck, and at this point it appears that Nebraska’s Scott Frost will be the only new head coach next season, coming off a 13-0 record at Central Florida. Frost, Brohm, and Fleck are considered to be among the up-and-coming head coaches in the game. Compare that to the circus which has been taking place in the SEC in recent weeks, which will result in six new head coaches next season.
If I had to pick one word to describe the BIG season, it would be solid. That’s not quite thrilling or overwhelming, but it’s, well, solid. The top programs, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan, look to be on very solid footing and should be the top programs again next season.
Northwestern (I picked them 2nd in the West, which is where they finished <taking bow>) looks comfortable in the second tier along with Iowa, and could be joined by several schools next year. Purdue reclaimed some relevancy this season and should continue to improve. Things can only get better for Nebraska, and the positive energy Scott Frost will bring with him should get them moving back in the right direction.
Down in the bottom tier, Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, and Illinois have reasons for hope. The Illini were one of the youngest teams in the nation this season. The question for them going forward will be, did they learn how to lose, or did they learn how to play. Head Coach Lovie Smith’s job will depend on the answer.
Expectations for the BIG in 2018 likely won’t be as high as they were this year, but I would expect the results to be similar and, well, solid. Maybe Jonathan Taylor will get a seat on the front row at the Heisman ceremony too.
I don’t really follow recruiting, but I ran across an item that I think is worth sharing. Minnesota received a commitment from a native of Melbourne, Australia who has only played American football for one year. It’s worth mentioning that he is listed at 6’ 8”, 395 pounds, which I assume was measured at a nearby truck stop. Wonder how big he’ll be when he stops growing?
Below is a list of all the BIG individual players of the year. I’m left with two thoughts-they sure give out a lot of awards, and can’t they make up their minds and just name them after one honoree instead of two?
Dungy-Thompson Humanitarian Award: Chad Green, Iowa
Ford-Kinnick Leadership Award: Troy Vincent, Wisconsin
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year: Josey Jewell, Iowa
Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year (coaches): Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Dave McClain Coach of the Year (media): Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Richter-Howard Wide Receiver of the Year: DJ Moore, Maryland Terrapins
Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: Billy Price, Ohio State
Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Nick Bosa, Ohio State
Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Josey Jewell, Iowa
Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Josh Jackson, Iowa
Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Griffin Oakes, Indiana
Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Ryan Anderson, Rutgers
Rodgers-Dwight Returner of the Year: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Don’t forget, you can follow my new twitter account at @TerpInTheSouth and reach me by e-mail at [email protected] I also hang out on the message boards, mostly in the University of Maryland & NCAA sections.
I’ll be back to look at the BIG bowl games after New Year’s. Until then, live large and have a BIG, happy holiday season everyone.