Marcus Musings: Scouting the Big Ten, Buckeye thoughts and the already-boring Bengals

Credit: Matthew Holst

Credit: Matthew Holst

After missing a couple of weeks, we are back with some thoughts on sports in Ohio and beyond. How else would you rather start your Monday????? (Well, thanks for being here instead.) 

  • From here on out, any time I am tempted to say the Big Ten West is looking stronger than usual this season I will remind myself Iowa is in that division. Woof. I watched the Hawkeyes two weeks in a row because I wanted to see how Michigan and Penn State looked. I came away thinking the Wolverines and Nittany Lions are both good, but Iowa really threw away chances to beat both of them and looked awful doing it. The Hawkeyes' offensive line was overwhelmed in both games, which could be a tip-your-hat-to-the-opponent situation but also highlighted the shortcomings of their quarterback, whose killer mistakes in both games were the main reason Iowa failed to score a touchdown either time and their season is pretty much over. (For more on Penn State and Michigan, see below).
  • Meanwhile, those games and the Red River Shootout served as perfect examples of why Ryan Day stresses game management with Justin Fields. Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts was great Saturday but also kept Texas in the game with a couple of red zone turnovers while the Sooners were dominating in the first half. He had another bad decision throw that was nearly intercepted in the fourth quarter in the end zone, too, and that game ended up being closer than it should have been.
  • The Ohio State-Michigan State game was a reminder in today's college football the only shutdown defenses are ones who have not faced a good offense.
  • Ohio State running for over 300 yards against Michigan State might be the biggest development of the season so far. That would partly depend on just how much you expect from Fields this season, but my thinking is that Ohio State is actually imposing its will on people the way we always talk about but almost never happens is a pretty big deal, not the least of which because it makes Fields' job easier. However...
  • I had the above thought before Wisconsin steamrolled Michigan State, but I am standing by my thoughts Michigan State has a good front seven. Wisconsin and Ohio State are probably just that good themselves. Also you have to take into account the post-Ohio State hangover that hits a lot of teams who come out of that game emotionally and physically spent. (The Badgers do this to teams, too, at least in their up years.)
  • Only the Bengals could change coaches after 16 seasons and get less interesting. They are 0-6 for the first time since 2008, the last time a season felt this pointless. Of course then there was at least hope for the next season since they had a qualified coach and their franchise quarterback was expected to be back. Now there is a sense of dread their overwhelmed coach and declining quarterback will be back next season to ruin another campaign in 2020.
  • Let's call a spade a spade: The Bengals have a 5-win roster, 0-win coach and the same old front office and ownership that have set everything in motion for more than 25 years now so it's pretty hard to see how this gets better anytime soon. Who dey gonna care by the time we reach Halloween?

  • Of course they lost to the Ravens because the Ravens have a slightly better roster and much better coaching. They take advantage of what their potential quarterback of the future can do now while Andy Dalton is being outplayed by inexperienced signal-callers on a weekly basis, but that was already old news on Sunday because the season veered irreversibly off course the week before.
  • Arizona was the worst Bengals loss in a long time. The Cardinals have a very bad roster with rookie coach and QB, yet they came into PBS and led virtually the whole way. There is no excuse for this. The Bengals roster has holes but it is not that bad. The defense rarely looks prepared, and the offense has been unimaginative even though that was allegedly why they hired the failed UC offensive coordinator as head coach. I get the offensive line is awful and that's somewhat out of their control, but an offensive coach makes his bones working around deficiencies, especially in the NFL. A veteran quarterback should help here, but Dalton is not the type to raise the level of play around him and has never been.
  • Taylor immediately looked like a bad hire based on his lack of experience or success in coaching, but what could really make the decision a disaster is the poor staff he hired. They downgraded at offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, and so far Lou Anarumo has gotten even worse results than the staff got last year, particularly compared to when Marvin Lewis took over the defense in the second half of the season.
  • The Steelers appeared to have an iron grip on what the Bengals were doing since pretty much everything they wanted to do worked, and the past two weeks Cincinnati has given up over 300 total yards to Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson. They can't be this bad.
  • OK, so let's conclude with those scouting reports on Ohio State's top two threats in the Big Ten: Penn State is more explosive but less tested. They upgraded physically at quarterback while running back is coming along and KJ Hamler appears to have gone from good to great at receiver. As usual, the offensive line is nothing to write home about. The defensive front seven is active and athletic, while we will have to wait and see about the secondary until they face someone who can pass.
  • I still don't agree with Jim Harbaugh's decision to overhaul the Michigan offense, but that unit figures to get better as the coaching staff learns who can do what. That said, it feels like their ceiling is lower than Penn State's. The Michigan defense isn't on last year's level, but they have some young guys in the lineup who could also be difference-makers more and more as the season progresses. (As I referenced in my Big Ten overview last week, Ohio State fans who write off Michigan do so at their own peril.)
  • By the time Ohio State plays Penn State and Michigan, we'll know all we need to know about both because they still have multiple tests ahead of them (Most notably Wisconsin and Notre Dame, respectively). Should be an interesting November in the Big Ten.

“Marcus Musings” 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 on various stories permeating the sports world and (hopefully) have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to or find me on Twitter or Facebook.  

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