Depending on how offensive/hilarious you found “Leaders” and “Legends” to be as division names, today was possibly a long time coming.
The Big Ten announced on Sunday a new divisional alignment — a much simpler “East” and “West” — that will become effective in 2014 in time for the additions of Maryland and Rutgers. The membership of the two divisions will be as follows:
In 2014 and 2015, each school will play the other six members in its division plus two teams in the opposing division. Beginning in 2016, the number of conference members each team will play from the opposing division increases to three as part of a new nine-game schedule — the first since 1984. In the new setup, only the Purdue-Indiana game will be considered a protected crossover game, but the new alignment does preserve 10 of the 13 trophy games in the conference. Perhaps most importantly to many, Michigan and Ohio State will now be in the same division.
Teams from the East Division will host five conference home games during even-numbered years, with West Division teams hosting five conference home games during odd-numbered years. Each school will play each other at least once every four years.
“Big Ten directors of athletics concluded four months of study and deliberation with unanimous approval of a future football structure that preserved rivalries and created divisions based on their primary principle of East/West geography,” said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. “The directors of athletics also relied on the results of a fan survey commissioned by BTN last December to arrive at their recommendation, which is consistent with the public sentiment expressed in the poll.”
Considering the criticism the Big Ten was taking from “Legends” and “Leaders”, the conference did a decent job this time around. The East definitely looks like the more top-heavy division, but there’s always going to be at least one gripe.
Off the field, Jim Harbaugh is an interesting and unique and decidedly different character. As it turns out, the Michigan head coach is that way on the field as well.
In the first quarter of its game against Wisconsin and facing a second-and-two from the UW six-yard line, Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator busted out the standard 10-man I-formation. Of course, the Wolverines couldn’t stay in that formation — that nitpicky seven-men-on-the-line-of-scrimmage rule — so they shifted pre-snap to your standard short-yardage set that included three tight ends and a fullback.
Whatever it was and whatever its intent, it was successful as the Wolverines picked up five yards and a first down. A play later, they scored the first touchdown of the Top 10 matchup.
That formation, though…
As for the game, the Wolverines lead the Badgers 7-0 at the half.
Maybe Butch Jones saved his halftime speech from last week.
At least that’s what Tennessee fans hope heading into the locker room down 17-7 at Georgia in a game with massive SEC East implications. The Vols will need a second straight comeback if they’re to remain undefeated and in control of their own destiny in the division.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a big lead behind tailback Sony Michel, who had 72 yards and a touchdown. Despite reports surfacing that he would not play this week, Nick Chubb did get a carry but was mostly limited to a role on the sideline. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason was efficient is not spectacular, going 6-of-10 for 39 yards.
The Volunteers had a chance to really make this more of a game in the second quarter, but Deandre Baker knocked the ball lose from tailback Jalen Hurd just as he was about to cross the goal line. Georgia recovered for a touchdown and promptly went 80 yards in 10 plays on the ensuing drive for another touchdown (albeit on a fumble recovered in the end zone themselves).
Tennessee did seem to get something moving on offense before halftime, with quarterback Joshua Dobbs marching down the field in nine plays before diving in for a touchdown by the slimmest of margins. It was an encouraging sign for the Vols in a half that was otherwise dominated by their mistakes and Georgia capitalizing on them.
In a battle of top 10 Big Ten contenders, Michigan has managed to get to halftime with a 7-0 lead on Wisconsin. Still, the Wolverines have to be wondering if missed opportunities could come back to bite them.
Michigan has missed two field goal tries in the game so far, with Kenny Allen missing from 31 yards and 43 yards on consecutive Michigan possessions. With the way Michigan’s defense has been playing, however, it may not matter. Wisconsin has struggled to get the running game going with Corey Clement (31 rushing yards on nine attempts) and just 34 rushing yards as a team. That includes negative yardage taken by quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who has been under pressure by the swarming Wolverines defense for much of the game so far.
Michigan’s offense has not been particularly sharp against a tough Wisconsin defense either. The Wolverines are just one-for-five on third down. The only touchdown drive of the half for either team came on a 77-yard, 11-play drive with Khalid Hill picking up the final yard for a score. The key play of the drive was a 22-yard run by Chris Evans.
Michigan had a bit of a scare when big Grant Newsome needed to be helped off the field in the first half. The cart to take him off the field had come on the field but he was able to be removed from the field with some help by trainers to the Michigan sideline. Perhaps the moral support from the entire Michigan roster on the field helped him out.
According to most observers, Charlie Strong was on the hot seat entering 2016. After the first two weeks of the season, including a huge win over Notre Dame in the opener, most of that talk was silenced; in fact, the running theme entering Week 3 seemed to be “finally, Texas football is back!”
Since? Not so much. In fact, we seem to be right back where we started when it comes to Strong’s future in Austin.
First came the loss to Cal in Week 3, which renewed the rumblings. Following an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State this weekend in which both the defense and special teams imploded, the calls grew louder and the heat under his seat grew warmer. For the defensive-minded Strong — and the administration — the crumbling on that side of the ball is especially troubling as the Longhorns have given up an average of nearly 50 points per game (48.7) this season to Power Five teams.
Following the game, UT athletic director Mike Perrin was asked about Strong’s future. Not surprisingly, it’s not exactly rock solid.
In three-plus seasons, Strong has gone 13-16 overall. Most distressing from the athletic department’s side, he’s now below .500, 9-10, in Big 12 play.
Especially with Houston’s Tom Herman being such a hot commodity, Perrin will face the most significant decision of his tenure in the coming months: stick with Strong for another season and hope the Louisville lightning strikes in Austin, or cut bait and heavily pursue the most desired commodity on the coaching carousel. Irrespective of anything else, it’s a decision that will define Perrin’s tenure at the school.