ALMA MATTERS: One of my schools, Illinois, could challenge for Big Ten West Division honors and a spot in the conference championship game. At this point, the door is wide open with the Illini atop the standings with unbeatens Iowa and Northwestern … and, as fate would have it, they have a date with the 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes this Saturday in Iowa City. A year ago, Iowa rolled to a 30-14 victory in Champaign, Ill., as then-head coach Tim Beckman and Co. failed to grasp that QB Wes Lunt wasn’t the right guy to lead the Illini down the stretch. It wasn’t until a week later when that sunk in and Reilly O’Toole sparked the team’s two-game Big Ten win streak to earn a bowl bid. Now healthy, Lunt is one of the more gifted passers in the conference and facing one of the conference’s worst pass defenses. Iowa yields 215 yards through the air per game. My other school, Temple, has been one of the nation’s revelations … even if the nation hasn’t quite picked up on it yet. Currently at 4-0 for the first time in 41 years, the Owls host Tulane Saturday at noon in an American Athletic Conference clash. This is no “gimme” game for Temple as the Green Wave are 2-2 and can throw it a little bit. The Owls’ pass D is worse than Iowa’s, giving up 263.5 aerial yards per game. With Notre Dame looming on Halloween for the Owls, and fellow AAC front-runner Memphis next month, maintaining focus on the task at hand is a priority.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Speaking of ND, this is the reality of last week’s 24-22 loss at Clemson: the Irish are better than the team that beat them, outgaining the host Tigers (437-296) and really dominating the last 50 minutes of the game, but it doesn’t matter. Fair or not, their chances at reaching the four-team playoff for the national championship have greatly diminished. That being said, they haven’t flamed out completely. Had Clemson, which supplanted ND as the No. 6 team in the country this week, it would be out already.
BIG TIMERS: Oddly enough, the No. 13 Northwestern at No. 18 Michigan contest, which is Week 6’s top matchup in the country, isn’t fetching the most for tickets. According to StubHub, that game can be seen in person for $82. The next best matchup, No. 23 California at No. 5 Utah, isn’t, either. Those tickets start at $124. Nope, topping the ticket field is none other than Duke at Army, with the cheapies at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., going for $126. Wow, who knew …
UPSET ALERT: Keep an eye on West Virginia hosting No. 21 Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers gave then-No. 15 Oklahoma all it could handle last week, pulling within three late in the third quarter, before turnovers and penalties did them in during a 44-24 loss. Expect a much more disciplined effort at Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday night against the Cowboys, whom they beat last season by 24 in Stillwater, Okla.
Senior LB Joe Bolden leads a Michigan Wolverines defense that ranks second in the country in both points allowed and yards allowed.
It’s painful to admit, but this is reality:
Michigan, from Day One, has been the best team in the Big Ten Conference this season. Not defending national champ and current No. 1 Ohio State. Not Ohio State’s fellow top-5er Michigan State, either. Not even unlikely unbeatens Northwestern and Iowa.
Nope. Michigan has been the best.
Ouch. There it is. It’s out there. Bitch and moan all you want. But that’s the truth. We all know it, or should know it, whether we’re willing to admit it or not.
That losing effort to kick off the 2015 campaign, you know, the one where Jim Harbaugh’s debut as Wolverines head coach crash-landed a few waterski jumps from the Great Salt Lake, where host Utah upstaged its more ballyhooed guests, well, that’s looking less and less like a disappointment for the Maize & Blue and more like an initial testament to the greatness of what’s going on with the Utes.
A case, very easily, could be made for Kyle Willingham’s bunch as being the best team in college football right now. Since handling Harbaugh’s crew, 24-17, in the opener it has been something far beyond impressive in rising to No. 5 in the nation. But that’s another story for another day.
Michigan, now ranked 18th, and the Big Ten, are the topic right here, right now, and it’s a difficult-to-digest fact to those who share a mutual disdain for the Wolverines that the days of Michigan toiling in mediocrity are over just a few short months into Harbaugh’s tenure. Think about it, if he can turn around pampered blue-chippers so used to a country-club lifestyle whom he didn’t recruit that fast, what’s he going to be able to do with his own hand-picked guys?
Yeesh, the mind boggles … and the heart plummets.
Not for nothing, but the Wolverines’ 122-14 combined romp over its last four opponents should send shivers down upcoming opponents’ spines, even those belonging to the 13th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats, who enter Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday afternoon for a 3:30 tilt to be televised on the Big Ten Network in possession of arguably the nation’s best defense regardless of what goofy uniform combo they opt to wear.
Of course, the toughest argument would be with Michigan’s stop troops, which have allowed exactly one more point than Northwestern has. Indeed, the Wildcats top the nation in allowing just 7 points per game. Michigan is second at 7.6
The Wolverines also are second-best in the country in yardage allowed. Northwestern is 10th.
The real difference between the two? Michigan has an offense that doesn’t disappear. It’s balanced, and it doesn’t rely on a limited number of players. Indeed, six Wolverines already have rushed for 100 or more yards on the season with De’Veon Smith leading the way with 331.
The Wildcats have a RB in Justin Jackson who serves as both star and glue guy, and an intriguing option at QB with freshman Clayton Thorson, who can run, throw or possibly implode at a moment’s notice. Thus far, they have done enough on offense to win.
The problem is, if they can’t do anything on offense, and that being the case against Michigan is a very real possibility, what then?
That’s a problem most will face when playing the Wolverines, including Ohio State, especially if it doesn’t fix its QB situation, and Michigan State, particularly if it doesn’t shore up things with its own defense.
Yep, Michigan is back and already it has proven to be the best in the Big Ten, and a collective “ugh” can be heard from anyone having ties with points from Lincoln, Neb., to Piscataway, N.J., due to that.
Those with Evanston, Ill., connections actually may favor a double “ugh,” because their ’Cats just may be good enough to get a second crack at the Wolverines … in the Big Ten title game.
But, they, like the rest of us, always can hope that Michigan melts down sometime between now and then.