With one weekend remaining in the 2004 Big Ten football season, there are several topics on my mind. So let's get to it.
HN.com's Big Ten Power Rankings
#1: Michigan: Right now, they are one of the easiest picks to make on this list. But wouldn't you have loved to see them in Iowa City this year? Heck, I wouldn't mind playing them in Ann Arbor right now, with this matured version of Drew Tate under center, even with Iowa's lack of able bodied runners. BOWL PREDICTION: Rose Bowl.
#2: Iowa: I doubt that we will truly appreciate the accomplishments of this football team until well after the season is over. Even if Iowa should lose its next two games, for this football team to win six straight league games and overcome the adversity they were dealt is a triumph for the ages. To think that they still have a shot at their third straight 10-win season is flabbergasting, as is their likely third straight appearance in a New Year's Day Bowl. If Kirk Ferentz doesn't win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, then the trophy is nothing more than a paperweight. BOWL PREDICTION: Now, you wouldn't want me to spoil the fun for Friday's preview, would you?
#3: Wisconsin: The seemingly indestructible Badger defense gave up more than 500 yards of offense to the Michigan State Spartans last week, including more than 400 on the ground. That is not a misprint; a top ten ranked rush defense gave up more than 400 yards. Iowa's rush D was ranked #4 last week, and they gave up 337 rushing yards while their offense gained but six. Nine times out of ten, teams lose football games under both scenarios. Wisconsin was one of the nine, while Iowa was the one.
This loss is interesting as it pertains to this week's Iowa-Wisconsin match up in Iowa City. The Badgers have been thinking National title for the last two months. Now, not only is that dream out the window, but a Big Ten title is no longer in their own hands. It's the first real mouthful of adversity Wisconsin will have dealt with this year. How will they respond? BOWL PREDICTION: Coming on Friday.
#4: Michigan State: That butt kicking against Wisconsin came out of nowhere. Drew Stanton played, but he didn't play the majority of the snaps. They sit at 4-3 and can finish no better than 4th place, but John L. Smith's Spartans did something that previous Michigan State teams have not done, and that is that they climbed up off the mat after getting knocked down. They finally showed heart and character as a program. I am glad that Iowa will miss them the next two years on their schedule. BOWL PREDICTION: Music City.
#5: Purdue: Yeah, I know that Northwestern has a better record and that they beat Purdue in Evanston. I just think the Boilermakers have a better football team than the Wildcats. BOWL PREDICTION: Alamo
#6: Northwestern: I could say the same thing about Ohio State over the Cats right here, but Northwestern has more heart than do the Buckeyes. BOWL PREDICTION: I don't think they will get one of the Big Ten's seven bowl slots. I will tell you why in a few sentences.
#7: Minnesota: Though the Gophers have tanked down the stretch, and they are not a great bowl draw, they still might be a better bowl draw than Northwestern. I think the power running game and two 1,000-yard rushers is more enticing to the Motor City folks than is Northwestern. BOWL PREDICTION: Motor City.
#8: Ohio State: There is something lacking in that program right now. Old wounds are festering, and they have invited the NCAA to campus to investigate the allegations reported by ESPN and others. BOWL PREDICTION: Sun Bowl.
#9: Penn State: Hey, they finally scored some points this week and made a goal line stand to get their first win of the Big Ten season.
#10: Indiana: I've got your back, Coach DiNardo.
#11: Illinois: Sure, they beat Indiana, but Indiana beat Minnesota. And as long as there is any debate on who gets ranked last in my poll, if Illinois is in the fight, then they will get the nod. Goodbye, Ron Turner. You are a very nice guy, and Kirk Ferentz thinks you are a good football coach. It's not for me to debate that; however, I think a change is in the offing.
When looking at the candidates for Big Ten MVP, Braylon Edwards and Michael Hart of Michigan are in the discussion and they might be the two front runners. But has any one player meant more to the success of his team than Iowa's Drew Tate? Honestly, email me at email@example.com and make a compelling argument.
Without Tate, Iowa might not have qualified for a bowl bid to Detroit, much less be in line for their third straight New Year's Day bowl game.
Yet Tate won't win the award, and he probably won't be first team All Big Ten at quarterback. To the victors go the spoils, so Michigan freshman Chad Henne will likely earn the nod there. But Henne has a veritable who's who of All Americans to 1) throw to, 2) blocking for him and 3) they have a 1,000-yard rusher.
Iowa's leading rusher for the entire season has 204 yards. Repeating, Iowa's leading rusher, Sam Brownlee, has 204 yards for the entire season.
On Saturday, two more Iowa offensive linemen made the first starts of their careers. Tate went out and completed 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions.
In Big Ten play, Tate is 161 of 256 for 1,913 yards (272.3 per game), 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Henne is 145 of 223 for 1,644 yards (234.9 per game), 14 touchdown passes and five interceptions. Tate is the league leader in total offense and is second behind Henne in passer efficiency.
Tate has done this being the FOCAL point of Iowa's offense, with no running game to speak of. Teams have blitzed the dog poop out of Tate, yet he has found a way to guide Iowa to a 6-1 league mark, just one game back of Michigan and all of their talent in the Big Ten standings.
League honors are oftentimes beauty pageants, and when the quarterback at Michigan has a good season, as Henne has had, he usually wears the crown. But if Tate can somehow do it again in Iowa City this week and help lead the Hawks to a victory over Wisconsin, it would be more significant than any league foe Michigan has beaten this year, outside of beating Iowa. And in that game, Iowa coughed the ball up five times, and four of Michigan's scoring drives off of those turnovers began at Iowa's 33-yard line.
And don't be surprised to see Kyle Orton possibly jump ahead of Tate for post season honors, if he has a big game this week against Indiana. Sentimental favorites (read: injured seniors) tend to get a lot of votes, too.
On the defensive side of the ball, Matt Roth SHOULD win league MVP honors. He leads the league in sacks and forced fumbles, and he is third in the league in tackles for loss. The two players ahead of him in that category play for Minnesota and Indiana…if you catch my drift.
If AJ Hawk wins this award, I will blow a gasket. He has recorded a lot of tackles this year, but the defense that he plays on is not that great.
As I said earlier, Kirk Ferentz should win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, even if Iowa loses on Saturday. If they beat Wisconsin and he does not win it, there could not possibly be a bigger joke of a selection.
Here is how their numbers in league play stack up against one another (Player, FGA, FGM, PCT)
Schlicher: 14-17 (82.4)
Raynor: 17-23 (73.9)
Nugent: 9-11 (81.8)
Schlicher has the best percentage in the league, but Raynor has made three more kicks. He also has attempted six more kicks. It will be far too easy for writers and coaches to just write Nugent's name down on the ballot, and the fact that eleven of Schlicher's attempts have come against two teams and all three of his misses came against Purdue might hurt him here. Kyle will likely play a key role in Iowa's game against Wisconsin. If Schlicher is passed over for post-season hardware, the condolence that Iowa fans will have is that he is just a sophomore.
Edwards is a sure fire first teamer, but Solomon's pure numbers are better than Stubblefield's.
Stubblefield leads the league in receptions per game, but Edwards and Solomon are second and third. Stubblefield averages 9.5 yards per catch in Purdue's ball-control passing game, while Edwards averages 14.0 per catch and Solomon 14.8.
Edwards (99.9) and Solomon (89.0) are 1-2 in receiving yards per game, while Stubblefield is third (69.4). Ed Hinkel is fourth at 69.0. Hinkel is also fourth in receptions per game.
What you might see is Edwards and Stubblefield on the first team, with a pair of Hawkeyes on the second team. I don't think that there should be an outcry if Solomon doesn't make 1st Team All Big Ten, as he still drops a few too many catchable balls, but he is emerging as one of the best big-play receivers in the last 25 years of Iowa football.
OTHER HAWKS THAT WILL RECEIVE HONORS
Jonathon Babineaux stands a decent chance at first team all Big Ten, and should certainly make the second team. Antwan Allen has played well enough to make 2nd team, and you will likely see Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge fare no worse than second team this year. Marcus Paschal deserves honorable mention honors. Sean Considine has had a great season, but the fact that he missed a couple of games with an injury will probably hurt him for post-season honors.