1. Jerry Kill retired as coach of the Golden Gophers this week. Are the odds good that they'll continue their rise in the conference and possibly win the B1G West in the next three to five years?
Unless Nick Saban takes over Minnesota's football team, they'll be fortunate just to stand pat at about eight wins per season and they're highly likely to fall back to a team that scratches and claws just to make a bowl game. Jerry Kill built the Golden Gophers from a team that went 3-9 in his first season to one that had consecutive eight-win seasons.
The offense isn't very good this year (in fact it's awful with the 106th ranked scoring offense in the country) and it wasn't good last year either, but their defense has been great at times. Without a coach like Kill on the sidelines it's hard to see Minnesota sustaining that success.
Let's also not forget that, well, they're Minnesota. The Minnesota coaching job is not one that attracts the best coaches in the country. It's a stepping stone job for a great coach on his way to a place like USC or Florida State. When it comes to talent on the field, the Golden Gophers could only use the success of back-to-back eight-win seasons to get Scout.com's 56th best recruiting class in 2015.
That means mid-level talent, not top-tier talent. With Kill out of the picture, I would expect the quality of the recruit to fall off. It's a sad development for Kill and the fans of Minnesota football, but this simply will not help the program out. B1G West contention is completely off the table for years to come.
On another note, it truly is sad to see Jerry Kill step down at Minnesota because of his love for the game. He's been coaching football for one year longer than I've been alive (I'm 31 years old.) To be told that you cannot do something that you love and that you've been doing for so long because of health reasons has to be absolutely devastating for Kill.
2. With the Minnesota out of the picture, Wisconsin having a down year and Iowa on pace for an undefeated regular season, who should fans expect to win the most B1G West championships in the next five years?
I'll go with Wisconsin here even though they already have two losses this season and don't have that vintage Badgers rushing attack.
This Badgers team has a lot of players with B1G Championship Game experience because they played in 2014's game as well as other recent games. They have the talent and experience to get through a tough conference schedule in the future and emerge victorious.
The Badgers endured a head coaching change, then simply hired Paul Chryst who was on the Wisconsin staff two years prior to accepting their head coaching job. They hired one of their own knowing that he would not upset the apple cart. The quarterback position looks to improve too as Joel Stave is having arguably his best season so far at Wisconsin and Bart Houston has looked solid as a backup.
It's also not like their losses are to a couple of slouches. Their first loss was to the current No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide and their second loss was to the current No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes. Even though they aren't the best two-loss team in the country, they ahead of a team like Michigan when it comes to having the best losses for a two-loss team in the country (Utah and Michigan State.)
As for the other teams in the West, there's no reason to believe Illinois or Purdue will ever consistently compete for B1G West titles, much less in the next five years. Nebraska may have a lot of close losses this year, but I don't trust Mike Riley's system or his ability to recruit at all. Just look at what he did at Oregon State. I could easily see him out after three disappointing years.
Northwestern has bounced back this year after missing a couple of bowls, but the Wildcats have never gotten the kind of players necessary to sustain success in the West and I don't think that will ever happen. While Iowa is intriguing this year because they will likely finish the regular season 12-0 and because quarterback C.J. Beathard could return for another year in 2016, this seems like a flash in the pan.
The Hawkeyes are almost always very good every five years or so. They were also very fortunate to avoid Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in the crossover games. It's going to be very difficult to avoid all four of them in the future when conference play expands from eight games to nine games in 2016. Wisconsin isn't just the safe choice to win the most B1G West titles in the next five years, it's the right choice.
3. Would Penn State be better off if Christian Hackenberg stayed for his senior year or bolted for the NFL after his junior year?
They'd be better off if Hackenberg left.
I recently posed this question to several of my Penn State brethren and without hesitating they all agreed that wanted Hackenberg to move on to the NFL after three seasons for the good of Penn State's program. The reason I agree with them is because we all realize that the passing offense simply has not been good since James Franklin took over and it's not all the fault of the offensive line.
Hackenberg simply has not been good and he has regressed. His touchdown to interception ratio is a career best this year (11:2), but his completion percentage has dropped from 58.9 percent in 2013 to 55.8 percent in 2014 to 51.9 percent this season.
Most of Hackenberg's attempts have been short and he's still misfiring on a lot of screen pass and short slant routes. It's also common knowledge that while James Franklin likes Christian Hackenberg as his quarterback, he just doesn't quite fit Franklin's system. Last year he brought in Trace McSorely and Tommy Stevens as backups and one of them will take over whenever Hackenberg leaves (If not McSorely or Stevens, it will be class of 2016 commit Jake Zembiec or class or 2017 commit Sean Clifford).
No one would ever consider former Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels a great college quarterback, but in his final year, which was also Franklin's final year at Vandy, Carta-Samuels completed 68.7 percent of his passes for 8.1 yards per attempt. Those marks were 10th best and 29th best numbers respectively in the country in 2013.
Carta-Samuels was recruited by James Franklin as a transfer from Wyoming. Vanderbilt also scored 30.1 points per game despite playing in the rugged SEC. This year with Christian Hackenberg, the Nittany Lions are putting just 24 points per game (97th best nationally) despite an incredibly weak schedule. Perhaps the best idea is for Hackenberg to test NFL scouts' confidence in him and leave for the NFL while allowing Franklin to go with a better fit for his offense under center.
4. Now that the B1G has three teams in the AP top 10 (Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa) and the big bad SEC only has two teams there (LSU and Alabama) can we finally say the B1G is on par with the SEC?
Simply having the national champion from the B1G or having three teams from the B1G in the top 10 don't put the B1G equal to or above the SEC. Those are nice traits, but that's not enough. The SEC is deeper than the B1G. Much deeper. Outside of the top 10, the B1G has one ranked team in Michigan for a total of four ranked teams.
Meanwhile, the SEC has Florida, Ole Miss and Mississippi State for a total of five. When you look at other teams that received votes, the SEC also has Texas A&M at No. 26 and Georgia at No. 30. Beyond the rankings the SEC has consistently beaten the B1G head-to-head for years. There was a brief hiccup during the 2014 bowl season, but Bama trounced Wisconsin to start this college football season and I expect the SEC's dominance to continue during this upcoming bowl season.
Looking further at depth, the bottom of the B1G is far weaker than the bottom of the SEC. (Yes, those teams count too.) Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue and Illinois are the worst four teams in the B1G. Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Missouri and South Carolina are the worst four teams in the SEC. On a neutral field in any random quartet of matchups, I'd pick the SEC to win three or four of those games and to do so fairly easily.
I also believe that Michigan State is overrated by about eight to 12 spots, that Florida is better than all B1G teams except for Ohio State, that Bama is better than all B1G teams except for Ohio State, that LSU is better than all B1G teams except for Ohio State and that Ole Miss might be better than Michigan State and/or Iowa.
5. Who will win this week's B1G games?
Penn State over Illinois
Nebraska over Purdue
Wisconsin over Rutgers
Iowa over Maryland
Michigan over Minnesota
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