Before we get to the business of news this week, here are some thoughts on a few burning topics in my sports world.
- This week will be an appropriate week to bring up the Iowa and Purdue debacles when we interview Ohio State coaches and players, but this Nebraska team is most likely better than either of them. However, Ohio State going into this one with the wrong mindset would be a lot more surprising because it is earlier in the year and there will be more outside hype for the game, whatever that is worth. Still, “Will the Buckeyes throw up all over themselves against a double-digit underdog from the Big Ten West on the road” is a storyline to follow until the Buckeyes bury it.
- Last season Nebraska might have done more damage than anyone besides the Boilermakers to Ohio State’s playoff chances. The lackluster 36-31 win by the Buckeyes in early November was part of a stretch that seemed to cement in the minds of the College Football Playoff committee that Oklahoma would get a better grade in the eye test because the Sooners won their games against overmatched opponents more comfortably than the Buckeyes.
- So far this season it has been interesting watching Ohio State run plays that just work instead of just plays that work for Urban Meyer.
- Terry McLaurin caught another touchdown pass Monday night for the Redskins. The darling of the draft process won a job in camp and has taken to the NFL like a duck to water. This is one guy who might be underrated because he went to Ohio State, which is the opposite of how this usually works. Generally guys who go to places like Ohio State are assumed to be physically superior and get the benefit of the doubt in draft rankings, but he flew under the radar as a productive player with good measurables who was overshadowed by guys with more obvious skills. You have to be a physical freak to stand out at Ohio State because everybody is really talented so McLaurin just sort of blended in while guys who are faster, taller or more explosive got more attention. I myself did not expect him to be this good at the next level even though I was obviously aware he was a good player at Ohio State.
- I’m not normally one to believe in sports curses, but there is something fishy about the head coach/offensive line situations for both the Bengals and Browns this season, both of which appear to have the potential to reduce, well, the potential of each team. Is Paul Brown’s ghost doing some funny business behind the scenes here or what? Maybe he did the Browns and let Bill Walsh took care of the Bengals? IDK…
- At any rate, the Browns certainly have a higher ceiling, but they might not even be able to take advantage of their extremely weak schedule with the way they (don’t) block people. The Bengals might sniff .500 if their line had improved from last year, but that doesn’t seem to be the case (of course health is a major factor in Cincinnati, though I doubt this group would be a strength of the team even with all hands on deck).
- Of course there are plenty of bad coaches and offensive lines throughout the NFL, so maybe it’s all an organic development after all.
- Both of Ohio’s pro football teams are quickly finding out that when you hire a coach with little or no track record, they really need to have a fast start because there is nothing to point to when they struggle early. (For example, it was easier to stay on the Marvin Lewis bandwagon early because he was a Super Bowl-winning assistant who paid his dues and was universally thought of as next in line to get a head coaching job.) Freddie Kitchens has a lot of big personalities to manage on top of learning to manage a game, and it has looked too big for him so far, which is extra problematic because that was something people feared might be the case before the season began. His hire made infinitely more sense than Zac Taylor in Cincinnati, though, given that Kitchens at least had some familiarity and chemistry with his potential franchise quarterback.
- So far the combination of Taylor and non-franchise quarterback Andy Dalton has produced some big numbers but three losses. In today’s NFL, this is the same thing as producing, well, just three losses, because even terrible quarterbacks can throw for 400 yards at least occasionally. It would be ironic if Taylor, who has an unwarranted reputation as being good at coaching quarterbacks, had his chance at being a head coach harpooned by Dalton, who has always been just good enough to break Bengals fans’ hearts and rarely given any indication he will be better.
- Dalton had his chances to prove he can carry a team like a Ben Roethlisberger or even Philip Rivers (who ironically got his biggest win against the Bengals as Dalton stunk up the joint in his best chance by far to get a postseason victory) and failed miserably, so I”m not sure what the point of continuing to start him is. As soon as Ryan Finley has a basic understanding of the offense, the Bengals might as well take a look at him to see what they have because they aren’t going to sniff the playoffs either way and have been putting off looking to the future at the game’s most important position for too long.
- Seeing the throws Jared Goff can make in the Rams offense that Dalton can’t is another reason to question what the Bengals are trying to do.
- 2019 Draft pariah (through no fault of his own) Daniel Jones had a great first start for the New York Giants, who were roundly panned for taking him with the No. 6 pick in April because he had a so-so career at Duke and profiles more as a game manager than franchise-changer. I would still rather have the bigger-armed, higher-ceiling’d Dwayne Haskins in the long run, but we’ll see how it turns out.
- Early in Wisconsin’s rout of Michigan on Saturday, the Badgers could have run a QB sneak to convert fourth-and-1 on their first drive but said, ‘No, we’ll just line up and actually block you because we can.’ Sometimes those types of plays don’t set the tone for the rest of the game and are forgotten by the end of the afternoon. This was not one of those times. The Badgers beat up Michigan, taking their will and their unearned national respect with them. I would say Wisconsin took the Wolverines’ pride, but I’m not sure they had any of that left after the way last season ended. (False bravado is not pride.)
- Michigan may yet right the ship between now and November — they’ve been known to do that — but right now Jim Harbaugh’s decision to abandon what he believes in offensively to give the keys to an unproven offensive coordinator who essentially wanted to run, you know, the same general concepts you can find all over college football instead of be the power program Harbaugh originally set out to build Michigan into is looking like a disastrous miscalculation. Why this decision was roundly praised in the preseason I never quite understood. It might turn out to be similar to Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke both hurting their short-term chances for success by insisting on running offensive systems they didn’t have the right players for.
- Assuming Michigan would be able to make up for the loss of several studs on defense is also looking like a big mistake, something else that is not entirely shocking since Michigan does not recruit at the same level as the Ohio States and the Alabamas.
- The Wolverines do recruit at a higher level than Wisconsin, but that was not at all evident Saturday. Aside from the expected difference in strength and power, Wisconsin also ran right with Michigan all over the field, which should not be the case for a team with any reasonable playoff aspirations. I don’t know what Michigan’s strength and conditioning staff do, but it must not be much.
- Perhaps this is all jumping to too many conclusions, but keep in mind Michigan was drastically overrated last year thanks to a “revenge tour” greased up by getting to face Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State without healthy quarterbacks. That made a good defense look great, but when it was tested, it fell apart. And now it is missing some of the best players from that unit.
- As a college football analyst, one of the fun things about Michigan’s more than a decade of non-dominance is realizing the positions, “Michigan should be better than this,” and “Maybe this just isn’t a great job anymore” both have merit.
- “What is wrong with Michigan?” is a complicated question that probably could be its own post or three, but keep in mind a couple of things: Their in-state recruiting base isn’t great to begin with, and Ohio has not proven to be as reliable a fallback as it was for decades, first because Jim Tressel locked down the state (especially in the northeast) and then because of Mark Dantonio at Michigan State (other Big Ten schools, including Wisconsin, also pick off guys who probably would have been Wolverines in years past). Recruiting nationally is cool and to a certain extent necessary to compete with the best of the best, but there is still a balance that must be struck with local players in building a roster. I have always believed this was Carr’s downfall and that it was something to watch during Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State (especially when those games at Iowa and Purdue happened).
- No matter the coach, Michigan has seemed to have a problem on the development side. Why that persists through four administrations is probably the biggest mystery of all in Ann Arbor.
“Random Thoughts” is a semi-regular feature here at the blog. While most of our other coverage is concentrated on news and analysis, this is a place to share opinions and have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter or Facebook.
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