Illinois football and year 1 of the Lovie Smith experiment

So Illinois is one of the few BIG programs not going to a bowl, but things could be getting better downstate. Next year should say a lot about the direction of the program.

Here are a few links to stories related to Illinois football and head coach Lovie Smith. Is he the right guy to restore the Illini to orange-clad glory?

 

Comparing J.T. Barrett to other Heisman finalists

Okay so here @BigTenRumors (BTR if you will) we’re just saying…

  • DeShaun Watson, Clemson in 2016 – 3,914 yards passing, 67.6% completions, 37 TDs, 15 INTs, 529 yards rushing, 6 TDs, 4.1 ypc
  • Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma in 2016 – 3,669 yards passing, 71.2% completions, 38 TDs, 8 INTs, 143 yards rushing, 6 TDs, 1.9 ypc
  • Jake Browning, Washington in 2016 – 3,280 yards passing, 63.2% completions, 42 TDs, 7 INTs, 66 yards rushing,  4 TDs, 1.2 ypc
  • J.T. Barrett in 2016 – 2,428 yards passing, 62% completions, 24 TDs, 5 INTs, 847 yards rushing, 9 TDs, 4.4 ypc

Both Watson and Barrett saw their individual numbers and QB ratings get worse this year while Mayfield and Browning improved. Barrett should not be a Heisman finalist as his chances decreased drastically during the year. So did some of his peripherals. And as Eleven Warriors surmises Barrett should return to Columbus for his senior season.

It is interesting though to predict what Barrett may do in 2017. It would seem likely his numbers should improve although Mayfield may be the favorite heading into the year. The gulf statistically between Barrett and those other QBs listed above was wide – although rushing yards and relatively low interceptions are positive signs.

And of course Browning somehow isn’t even a finalist this year!?

Perhaps question #1 going into next year – or for the College Football Playoff for that matter – for Urban Meyer is: how can the Buckeyes passing game head in the right direction again?

Northwestern Hoops: Dayton, Butler, Notre Dame, Wake Forest all part of a stronger ‘Cats schedule

So now is not the time to go into the whole Northwestern basketball/NCAA tournament historical lesson. ‘Cats fans, you know the drill. But there is movement toward Northwestern potentially breaking another Chicago-area sports curse based on the quality of the team’s non-conference schedule.

With all due respect to The Sports Bank, the basic story is identified here. And if the always wonderful-to-pursue KenPom rankings are any sign, Northwestern’s #43 RPI ranking has the potential to get higher as the Wildcats embark on BIG play in the coming weeks. Sure eventually Chris Collins’ team will have to beat teams like Butler and Notre Dame but wins over a young but talented Texas squad that took Michigan to the final seconds in Ann Arbor, the aforementioned Demon Deacons and a woodshed-thumping of DePaul are small  but critical steps toward Land of 68. Regardless, perhaps this is a different Northwestern.

The level of talent is continuing to improve in Evanston and the eventual return of sophomore Dererk Pardon will certainly help. For now, a better schedule certainly helps. Circle that December 17 date against Dayton at the United Center.

Bowl Preview: Indiana vs. Utah

So today we are kicking off our bowl preview series in the BIG. We will start with the Indiana Hooisers, making a second consecutive bowl appearance, but this time under a (brand) new head coach, Tom Allen.

Let’s just say that most media outlets don’t give the Hooisers much of a shot in the Foster Farms Bowl. Indiana is around an 8-9 point underdog, and frankly the matchup with Utah’s strong secondary play is not favorable. How hard the Hooisers play for Allen in his first role as the head man will be interesting, as bowl performance often comes down not to which team is more talented, but which team is more motivated.

Campus Insiders likes a higher-scoring game that favors Utah despite Indiana’s vastly improved defense.

SB Nation notes that Indiana’s offense production fell by about 11 points per game this year, but that the defensive improvement made up for much of that drop-off.

Has it really been more than a decade since Indiana played a Pac-10 opponent in football? Indeed it has, says the Indianapolis Star, and like the Hooisers, Utah is familiar with playing close games. 

Indiana’s student newspaper says the bowl game represents another opportunity for IU to get a signature win.

Here’s the Big Ten hoops player who was name dropped in a rap song (and more Maryland notes)

Just a quick hitter here. First Trimble hit the game winning free throws in a 71-70 Maryland win over Oklahoma State. Then rapper Wale mentioned Terrapins point guard Melo Trimble in the song “Groundhog Day.”

Really, you ask? It’s all in this Baltimore Sun story. Here are some other Maryland basketball notes:

2017 Top 25 hoops recruit profile – Brandon McCoy, Michigan State?

The BIG isn’t exactly in the running for many top 25 uncommitted recruits for the basketball class of 2017. But one such highly coveted player is Brandon McCoy, a 6-10, 200-pound 5-star from San Diego, who has Michigan State at or near the top of his list.

There weren’t any real surprises when McCoy named his five finalists last month, and the fact that MSU is the only non-West Coast school among the list could be a positive or negative sign. He does have family ties to Chicago, which hasn’t exactly been kind to the Spartans in recent years. Oregon and Arizona appear to be the top competitors to Tom Izzo and his staff for McCoy.

Updated news on McCoy has been pretty scarce since his final 5 was released but McCoy, who apparently has some perimeter and shot-blocking skills worth noting, would be a nice addition to a class headlined so far by top 25 commit Jaren Jackson Jr. and top 100 recruit Xavier Tillman.

Hot starts from Minnesota and Rutgers basketball could lead to double-digit non-conference wins

Time to turn a bit to BIG basketball. While Minnesota and Rutgers were not picked near the top of the preseason conference standings, both are off to hot starts.

And Illinois’ student newspaper believes that the Illini should be taken seriously after its start under head coach John Groce.

With other top 25 programs like Michigan State and Wisconsin struggling a bit, it could be a wide-open BIG season.

MSU junior Malik McDowell turns pro. What other BIG early entries are likely?

In a decision that should surprise no one, Michigan State defensive tackle announced today that he will be entering the NFL draft, despite a junior season that saw McDowell’s production dip significantly while he battled through, or sat out, because of injuries.

Given that McDowell often faced double or triple teams this year as opponents focused on stopping him, it probably isn’t a “difficult decision.” McDowell battled an ankle injury late in the year and whispers around the media covering MSU was that the defensive tackle could have played injured, but didn’t want to adversely impact his draft status.

So who’s next in terms of early entrants from the BIG into the NFL draft? This Saturday Tradition article from May made some predictions, one of which has come true. At this point it would be a shock if Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan chose not to enter the draft. Northwestern stud linebacker Anthony Walker could also leave early.

Other possibilities emerge as well by looking at the top 2017 draft prospects on CBSSports.com. Note all players listed below are among the top 200 overall draft prospects according to CBSSports.

  • Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
  • Ohio State WR Curtis Samuel
  • Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
  • Ohio State DE Tyquan Lewis
  • Ohio State OG Billy Price
  • Penn State WR Chris Godwin
  • Northwestern RB Justin Jackson

Rutgers Football News and Notes