Sometimes the most interesting divisions and conferences are not the most relevant from the point of view of the national title. The Big Ten West is a good example. Unless Scott Frost has a second-year miracle in Nebraska, it is highly likely that no divisional team will be involved in the PCP race in mid-November. But that does not stop it from being the most fascinating division of FBS.
Based on what you think about Jeff Brohm's ability to replenish on the fly at Purdue for the second time in three years, you can argue convincingly that up to six Western teams have won the division. (Sorry, Illinois.) Obviously, Nebraska has a fantastic young coach and a potentially exciting young quarterback.
Minnesota was actually both better and younger than Nebraska last year and posted a huge rise. Northwestern won the division in 2018 with smoke and mirrors, but Pat Fitzgerald has an endless supply. Wisconsin is Wisconsin. Iowa is Iowa. The volume of stories here is immense.
Quick review of terminology: S & P + is the tempo and opposition-based efficiency measure I created during Football Outsiders in 2008.
The teams are listed below in S & P + projection order. Click here for an overview of Big Ten East.
Go to a team:
Wisconsin | Iowa | Minnesota | Nebraska
Northwestern | Purdue | Illinois
Record and ranking 2018: 8-5 (No. 19 in S & P +, No. 24 in FPI)
Projection S & P + 2019: 9.1 victories (n ° 11)
Projection FPI 2019: 6.6 wins (No. 38)
In team sports, at least, stereotypes are often stereotyped for a reason. There is usually a core of truth in our assumptions. Take Wisconsin, for example. Since Barry Alvarez went through decades of struggle with a series of offers at the Rose Bowl, the Badgers have practically put forward a certain style of play: heavy race and physical attack, just as physical as strong in defense.
Wisconsin plays by itself, takes little risk and leans on you until you fall. Right? There were more than enough 1500 yards riders and 20-16 wins to fulfill the prophecy. The name of the head coach has changed several times, but the style and, for the most part, the victories have not diminished.
In recent years, however, some interesting twists have been observed.
In 2017, Wisconsin experienced a breakthrough. The Badgers played in the regular season at 12-0, beating their non-conference list, going through an easy Big Ten West and beating their best ball in their biggest games – they defeated Canada's top ranked teams. Iowa and Michigan by 62- 24 They dropped just six points against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, then outshot Miami in the Orange Bowl to finish 13-1 and seventh in the AP poll.
This team was Wisconsin, but more. The defense, led by freshman coordinator and former Wisconsin star Jim Leonhard, is ranked fourth in the S & P + defensive and has achieved this ranking through aggression. The Badgers ranked second in the country in terms of damage rate (total tackles for defeat, defensive passes and forced fumbles divided by the total number of games played), and 47% of opponents' defeats. more in the country, were due to a defended pass (interception or break). Wisconsin was healthy and phobic, but you also had to fight and get the best out of it.
Offensively, Wisconsin always ran the ball constantly, but when the Badgers had to pass, they could do it. They had one of the most effective transmission offenses in the country, with Alex Hornibrook distributes the ball to a young body of exceptional receivers. It was not just Wisconsin, it was Wisconsin +.
In 2018, we could say that we saw Wisconsin. The defense had to deal with front injuries, injuries and extreme inexperience in the back. D & C Dixon, the only seasoned defenseman, missed four games. The remainder of the secondary portion consisted of first-year and second-year students. The rush has also disappeared.
Wisconsin dropped to 59th place in the damage rate and 29th in the S & P + defense – not bad, but not as good.
The regression put pressure on the offensive to play, and the magic of the lost passes disappeared. First of all, Hornibrook had difficulties; Then, he was injured and lost his job to his second year, Jack Coan. He was transferred to Florida after the season.
Wisconsin was as good as ever in running the ball – Jonathan Taylor had 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns, and UW was second in marginal efficiency. But the bonuses we saw within the 2017 team have disappeared. The warning signs came early in a defeat 24-21 against BYU, and the gaps created a huge inconsistency in the conference matches. After winning seven games of the double-digit Big Ten the year before, they had lost four of those games.
So what now? After two extreme seasons (in different ways), will the Badgers go back to the 10 and 3 year olds we are used to? This is possible, but there could be more on the table if the quarter position is more stable.
Taylor is back, the receiving body still includes AJ Taylor and Danny Davis III, and this year's high school is full of sophomores and juniors who are getting wet in 2018. Once Hornibrook is gone, the starting station will probably come back to Coan or shredder Graham Mertz, one of the most anticipated freshmen in the history of school.
In terms of turnover, the biggest questions are about the units that Wisconsin usually has. The Badgers are expected to replace four offensive linemen at the start, including two All-American guards (Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel) and 2017 all-American tackle David Edwards. That's Wisconsin, so big beasts to chew are not lacking, but the level of experience is down.
The Badgers also lose their top three TFL leaders, all linebackers. The line is more experienced, but Zack Baun is the only playmaker known among the top seven. The secondary school should be better, but it would not matter if the hurried passage fell off a cliff.
Record and ranking 2018: 9-4 (No. 23 in S & P +, No. 16 in FPI)
Projection S & P + 2019: 7.7 wins (No. 25)
Projection FPI 2019: 7.9 wins (No. 23)
It goes without saying that to reach your goal in all sports and at all levels, you will have to win a few close games. New England would not have won the Super Bowl last season without an overtime victory in Kansas City. Toronto would not have won the NBA title without having won six of the eight games decided by two or fewer possessions at the end of the playoff rounds. Virginia would not have won the NCAA title without four consecutive wins in a possession or overtime.
You can say that tight games mean even more in the Big Ten West. In a conference with talent levels and slower rhythms (which create fewer possessions and give fewer opportunities for a team to separate from each other), your destiny will be closely linked to the question of whether you were able to release the games later. Northwestern went 5-1 in conference games with a possession last year, which allowed the Wildcats to win the division despite poor stats. Iowa has imposed 12-0 in the 2015 regular season, thanks in part to five wins from a score.
The god of close games is unstable, however. The tight game records of most teams come and go over time. (Northwestern could be an exception in this regard.) The balance sheet of a team in the other the games end up showing how they evolve as a program.
Iowa: good trend.
Kirk Ferentz's results over the last 20 years have been consistent: Iowa has, after all, won between seven and nine games in seven of the last nine years, but broke the Hawkeyes record in one and many records . highlights peaks and valleys.
• 1999-2000: 2-12 in multi-disc games, 2-7 in games to a score
• 2001-05: 33-9 in multi-player games, 12-8 in one-point games
• 2006-07: 8-8 in multiscore games, 4-5 in games to a score
• 2008-10: 19-0 in multi-scoring games, 9-11 in games to a score
• 2011-12: 7-7 in multiscore games, 4-7 in games to a score
• 2013-18: 33-11 in multi-scorer games, 19-16 in games to a score
Since the bizarre 4-8 campaign of 2012 (2-3 in multiscores, 2-5 in single scores), Ferentz has engaged in a third supported high. Iowa was not as impressive as it was when winning 19-0 in multi-scoring games in 2008-10, but the Hawkeyes are still at 24-6 in these games since 2015. And although they are not up to their opponents Happy record of 12-2 of 2015, S & P + suggests that they have continued to improve each year since then.
In fact, the Hawkeyes' # 23 standings at S & P + last fall was their highest ranking since 20th in 2010. They went 9-4 and came close to the difference: Three of their four defeats have collected 12 points in total.
This 2010 season however marked the end of one of the peaks of Ferentz. Can the Hawkeyes continue to improve this time?
Talent on both depths is encouraging. Quarterback Nate Stanley is coming back for his third year as a starter – barring an injury he should rank third all-time passes in Iowa City – and even if he will have to find new choice targets after losing both first-place receiver Nick Easley and the two tight ends of the first round (TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant), he will have at least junior passers-up Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, both of whom shone at the same time last year.
Despite Iowa's physical reputation, the Hawkeyes' running game is rarely particularly good. He does not lose a lot of distance, but he does not win much either. But he should at least improve with the return of three half-halves (Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin) and four linemen with a starting experience, including tackle Alaric Jackson. This may help keep Stanley and his young receiving body out of difficulties and difficult distances.
Depth could be a problem for the defense, but the star power is high. Former class member A.J. Epenesa experienced a breakthrough in 2018, recording 16.5 tackles for the loss, 10.5 sacks and 18 innings, and he has a good dance partner at Chauncey Golston (nine TFLs, 3.5 sacks and nine). The linebacker returns four of the five contributors, and although the guarantees Amani Hooker (fourth round pick) and Jake Gervase are gone, the Hawkeyes still have Geno Stone and the four best turns of last year.
Continual improvement could be difficult, but Iowa still expects a solid 25th place, both in REITs and in S & P +. The Hawkeyes should record a 5-2 record in the multi-scoring games (as they did in 2016 and 2017). The season will therefore be defined by tight times – as usual.
Record and ranking 2018: 7-6 (No. 45 in S & P +, No. 48 in FPI)
Projection S & P + 2019: 7.5 wins (No. 33)
Projection FPI 2019: 8.3 win (n ° 28)
To paraphrase former ESPN analyst Lou Holtz, a college football coach trains a different team each week. Teams are collections of different prints and different quality levels. Maybe it's logical that Holtz was at one point the Minnesota head coach. Few teams give as many different impressions in a year than PJ Fleck's Golden Gophers did last fall.
The second Fleck team in Minnesota did all the following things:
• Beat the eventual MWC champion Fresno State (who finished 16th in the S & P +)
• Destroys Purdue 41-10
• Destroys Wisconsin to Madison 37-15
• Destroys Georgia Tech in the 34-10 Quick Lane Bowl
The same team also did this:
• Lost in Maryland 42-13
• Lost in Nebraska 53-28
• Lost in Illinois 55-31
Minnesota started 3-0, lost four straight games of at least 16 points each, and then won four of six games to finish the season. The Gophers finished 45th in the S & P +, but it's misleading: they played either as a team among the 20 best or the worst 50 in a given week.
This supernatural volatility makes a lot more sense when you realize how young Minnesota was. The Gophers alternated two first-year quarterbacks (Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan) and two first-year halfbacks (Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams) in the backfield. In addition, three of the four main recipients were first-year students, and those representing 42 out of 65 lines were first-year or second-year students.
The defense was much more experienced – and better – but it still included four freshmen and sophomores making at least 30 tackles and four or five more in the rotation.
Once star catcher Tyler Johnson chose to return to Minnesota instead of becoming a pro, it became clear how much the 2018 production would be produced by the Minnesota team in 2019. With just a hint of consistency , the Gophers could be incredibly dangerous.
If there is one thing that Fleck has proven, it is that he is not afraid to take his time to develop programs. In his first position as head coach at Western Michigan, he resumed a program that had always been decent but that had never been excellent under Bill Cubit. He then burned both ground depths in his first season, scoring a score of 1 to 11 with a team as young as Minnesota last year: rookie quarterman, beginner and sophomore trainees, and so on. .
The culture of caffeine and Fleck canoeing has developed quite rapidly. He recruited at an absurdly high level for a MAC school and his Broncos went from 116th in S & P + in his first season to 73rd in second place, 56th in third and 29th in fourth. WMU was 13-1 in his last season at Kalamazoo.
His first two seasons in Minnesota have seen a similar cultural shift. They also recorded net growth last year. Admittedly, its recruitment does not stand out as much as in the MAC, but it is better than that of its predecessors. He has already produced a lot of potential stars, from Morgan to Ibrahim via receivers Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. to a host of offensive and defensive linemen.
He also produced a certain circumference. With the return of senior strikers Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks after their injury, Minnesota has four exciting backs listed at 200 pounds or more. They will be behind a line that includes Daniel Faalele of 6-foot-9, 400 pounds, Curtis Dunlap Jr. of 6-5 and 370 pounds, and three other veterans of 300 pounds.
Ibrahim rushed for 224 rushing yards on Georgia Tech, and although Morgan and the receiver corps are interesting, it may happen that Minnesota does not really have to think about throwing as much.
The Big Ten West is a fascinating place right now. The two pillars of the division (Iowa and Wisconsin) seem to be solid versions of themselves this year. Last year's division champion (Northwestern) will start a former Clemson blue shredder at quarterback, Purdue boasting a veteran QB, one of the top US players (Rondale Moore) and an experienced defense, as well as Nebraska and Minnesota are high flying mysteries. And while Nebraska has been the pre-season adventurer of West Day (the blue bloods always make a wink in this regard), the Gophers could be as or more ready.
The schedule alternates between probable victories and exciting throws. According to S & P +, the Gophers are slightly favored in the states of Fresno, Purdue and Northwestern, and at home against Nebraska. They are also neglected in Iowa and at home against Penn State and Wisconsin.
There may not be a definite loss in the program, but there may only be four or five sure wins. Hello, wild card Big Ten East.
Record and ranking 2018: 4-8 (No. 49 in S & P +, No. 57 in FPI)
Projection S & P + 2019: 6.4 wins (No. 45)
Projection FPI 2019: 8,2 wins (No. 31)
The favorite son of his country, who supported his team in his last national title, learned the ropes of modern football coaching, got wet elsewhere, then returned home to save the school of his country . After a reset for the first year, he puts the pieces in the right place and creates a second-year miracle run just like he did for his first coaching job.
Admit it: it's a pretty seductive story out there. And since the favorite son in question is Scott Frost, it's not completely exaggerated.
Frost seems almost designed by a laboratory to save the Nebraska football program. He first played for Bill Walsh, then for Tom Osborne at the university. Indeed, he supported the Cornhuskers national title in 1997, then went to the pros and played the safety for Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Monte Kiffin, among others. Three years after his coaching career, he was already North Iowa's defensive coordinator. A year later, he was training the offense of Chip Kelly's staff in Oregon.
At 40, Frost's DNA training was flawless. And in his first coaching position, he inherited a 0-12 UCF team, improving it by six wins in one year, and then seven more the next year. His Knights went to 13-0 in 2017, defeated the team (Auburn) who had beaten both teams during the national title game (Alabama and Georgia) and claimed a share of the title for themselves . Then he went home.
The first Frost team in Nebraska needed only to show marginal potential for the second year's fashionable train to come in. It took a little while, but the Huskers got there. They started the season with a score of 0 to 6 against new rookie Adrian Martinez, but despite their young age, they pulled themselves together. They won four of six innings and lost two more games (a five-point loss to Ohio State and three points loss to Iowa).
That was enough for the narrative generator. Even in mid-July, after bettors had plenty of time to identify and exploit dubious odds, the Huskers are still, by Caesars, one of the 30-1 favorites for win the national title. Among the Big Ten, only the Ohio State and Michigan have better odds.
So, the story is settled. The Huskers, the losers of 20 of their last 30 games, really hope to meet these new expectations? It will take a miracle. But in a more rational world, we would be talking about a team that can take a pleasant and lasting step forward. NU is projected in 45th place of the S & P + and 35th of the FPI and has many:
1. The second year jump really takes place. The second season of a coach tends to be a common moment to take a step forward in the set. Admittedly, it may not be as drastic as Frost's second year at UCF or Kirby Smart's second year in Georgia (when the Dawgs went from 8 to 5 a year to a party). from the national title the next), but it's a good time to improve.
2. Martinez was pretty good for a freshman. He completed 65% of his passes (just 11.7 yards per end), did not take a crazy number of bags for a mobile freshman and rushed for 789 yards without a bag . He has the potential for a 3000/1000 season in him at some point.
3. The body of skills has nice options for efficiency. Maurice Washington and Jaylin Bradley, two other Huskers, as well as Dedrick Mills of Juco, were the half-offensives. Although the late Stanley Morgan was the only big game, Martinez has safety valves on slot receivers JD Spielman and Kanawai Noa (a transfer from Cal), Jack Stoll and Washington, who caught 24 balls out of 28 l 39. last year.
4. The defense is experienced and has a lot of growth room. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander came with Frost from UCF, where he inherited a defense that ranked 105th in the S & P + defensive rankings in 2015 and that was ranked the first 50 on average over two years. But he did not make much progress last fall: the NU dropped from 40th to 55th. The Huskers need to replace their best rusher (OLB Luke Gifford) and the top three saves, but they could make as many as three seniors in the top seven, and the half corners, Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson, are very active.
Unless Martinez becomes McKenzie Milton and some linebackers do not turn into Shaq Griffin – unless Frost still has a lot of second year Leprechaun dust – this should not hit anyone as long as they are in the right place. national title team. A potential West Division contender and an exciting team, though? Absolutely.
Record and ranking 2018: 9-5 (No. 68 in S & P +, No. 37 in FPI)
Projection S & P + 2019: 5.5 wins (No. 57)
Projection FPI 2019: 5.7 wins (No. 52)
Sometimes, one has the impression that all the statistics of the world can not overcome a pre-established destiny. By 2018, it seemed like a higher power was accepting one of Northwestern's less impressive Pat Fitzgerald teams for the division title.
• On October 13, the Fitzgerald Wildcats trailed Nebraska 31-21 with less than three minutes. They drove to Nebraska 3, but moved back and settled for a goal. No problem! They forced Nebraska to a three-and-one-half comeback – only their third stop on Nebraska's last seven outings – and then managed to reach 99 yards in less than two minutes, equalizing the 12-second score. end and forcing the player to score extra points. fourth pass duel and nailed the best goal.
• On November 10, after a close win at Rutgers, a more comfortable win at home against WIsconsin and a no-conference loss against Notre Dame, the Wildcats found themselves following Iowa 10-7 in Iowa City and came from miss a potential goal. attempt. However, another three-man managed to get Benny Skowronek on touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Then, the defense forced and recovered fumbles on two consecutive orders from Iowa to win the victory and win the division.
Losing both games seemed statistically likely and would have given the division title to Iowa, a better team on paper. But despite being overtaken in four of the nine conference battles – and despite losing to Akron in a non-conference – Northwestern finished 8-1 and earned the title.
The 2018 season was the logical end of General Fitzgerald's general approach of "keeping things close and seeing what happens". Very few coaches can systematically tame the beast at close quarters, but Fitzgerald could be one of them. In 13 seasons, he has only 51-44 in multi-scoring games – Northwestern lost exactly three multi-scoring games each year for six consecutive seasons and averaged 3.4 per year under Fitz's regime – but recorded a score of 45-26.
This is a knife that cuts in both directions, notice; many of their tight victories were won against teams that they should have handled much more easily. Nevertheless, the Wildcats slow down the game, keep the fight close and hope they will maneuver better than you at the end of the game. Akron aside, they are usually right.
Statistics do not trust teams like this.
Northwestern has sometimes looked as good on paper as in the field – the Wildcats ranked 27th in the S & P + in 2017, for example. But last year, the team placed 68th. The team this year should move to 57th place in S & P + and 53rd in the REIT, but the good news is that seven games are projected in a touchdown. Win your five requirements and you could be back in the division race.
There is at least a chance, however, that things are coming out of this year's scenario. This year's team seems to have more potential than most UN teams.
It starts at quarterback, where Hunter Johnson of Clemson Transfer takes over. Johnson completed 21 of 27 assists as Kelly Bryant's replacement in 2017, but left when it became apparent that Trevor Lawrence was the alleged heir.
Last year's main safety covers (receiver Flynn Nagel and superback Cameron Green) have disappeared, but the most explosive goaltenders – namely Skowronek, junior Kyric McGowan and second-time student JJ Jefferson are back. Thus, running back John Moten IV, who was injured for much of 2018, however, beat Illinois and accumulated 77 yards at the start of the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State.
There is a lot more potential explosiveness on this offense that we have a habit of seeing. We'll see if the Wildcats really benefit. Last year, the match was terrible, especially after the retirement of halfback Jeremy Larkin. With the departure of Moten, the first-year player, Isaiah Bowser, got most of the work between tackles; He had two excellent games, including against Iowa and Illinois, but he also collected about 3.6 yards per run.
Mike Hankwitz's defense is also more experienced. The Wildcats placed 30th in the S & P + defensive rankings (fourth in the top 30 in five seasons), despite injuries and relying on a lot of sophomores – linebackers Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher, not to mention Samdup Miller, goalies JR Pace and Travis Whillock. With experience, stability and success, Joe Gaziano could rank among the top 15.
Record and ranking 2018: 6-7 (No. 44 in S & P +, No. 40 in FPI)
Projection S & P + 2019: 5.4 wins (No. 58)
Projection FPI 2019: 4.8 victories (n ° 62)
Has a head coach ever made a better impression by going to .500?
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has succeeded West Lafayette at one of the most desperate moments of the football program. The school does not have the most loaded history in football, of course, but in the four years leading up to Brohm's arrival, the Boilermakers were only 9 to 39. It's a a winning percentage of .188, worse than anything you could find among the sorry 1980s and early 1990s, or the 1930s, or even the 1900s, which included consecutive 0-5 campaigns.
The era Darrell Hazell (2013-2016) was hopeless from the beginning. Purdue was worse than 80th in S & P + offensive and defensive each year under Hazell's leadership. Brohm has inherited a list devoid of talent and hope.
In this context, a record of 13-13 over two seasons is almost miraculous.
In Brohm's first game, Purdue scared Lamar Jackson and Louisville. In his third, the Boilermakers destroyed Missouri in Colombia. Et après une période de ralentissement à la mi-saison, Purdue a remporté quatre de ses cinq derniers matchs et a terminé sa première saison de victoire en six ans.
La deuxième saison de Brohm était fondamentalement l'inverse de sa première: horrible départ (trois défaites par un total de huit points combinés), fantastique milieu (cinq victoires en six matchs), finie louche (trois défaites en quatre). L’année s’est terminée par une défaite modeste de 63-14 contre Auburn dans le Music City Bowl.
Pourtant, cette partie du milieu a laissé une grande impression. Purdue a battu Boston College et l'Illinois, a remporté pour la première fois au Nebraska, a battu l'Iowa pour la deuxième année consécutive et, bien sûr, a fait le tour de Ohio State lors de l'une des samedis soirs les plus excitants de la saison 2018.
Après la saison, les impressions ont continué. Tout d'abord, Brohm a renvoyé son alma mater, Louisville, de rester à West Lafayette. (Il signerait une extension de contrat massive au printemps.) Il a ensuite signé un top 25 des recrutements.
À long terme, la vue du stade Ross-Ade est aussi optimiste et excitante qu’elle l’a été depuis 15 ans, voire plus. Brohm a fait ses preuves sur le plan tactique, il gagne beaucoup, et il vient de signer autant de candidats potentiels quatre étoiles dans une classe (six) que Purdue avait réussi dans ses cinq dernières classes combinées.
Je suis curieux de savoir combien de buzz va se dissiper avec une autre saison médiocre, cependant.
Purdue a battu l'offensive en 2018, mais doit maintenant remplacer le quart David Blough, ses deux meilleurs rushers, cinq des huit joueurs ayant une réception à deux chiffres et quatre des six joueurs de ligne offensifs primaires de l'an dernier. Même avec le retour du receveur potentiel américain Rondale Moore, et du quart partant Elijah Sindelar pour 2017, il ya suffisamment d'attrition pour que les Boilermakers devraient passer de la 17ème à la 42ème position dans l'offensive S & P +.
Une régression offensive fera pression sur la défense pour qu'elle se relève rapidement. Les Boilermakers ont perdu une tonne de production de l'excellente unité de 2017 et sont passés de la 32e à la 88e place du S & P + défensif. Sur les 14 joueurs ayant fait au moins 15 plaqués l'an dernier, 12 sont de retour. Les deux départs, la sécurité Jacob Thieneman et le corner Antonio Blackmon, pourraient faire mal, car ils étaient tous deux de solides meneurs de jeu. Néanmoins, la profondeur ici est indéniable et, avec l’ajout du transfert de Ben Holt à l’Ouest du Kentucky, Purdue pourrait se targuer de compter sur l’un des corps les plus excitants de la conférence.
L'amélioration défensive est imminente, mais combien? Et le retour de Sindelar peut-il créer un pont entre le temps présent et le futur? Purdue a des jeunes talents passionnants où que vous regardiez, du quarterback (recrue quatre étoiles Redshirt Jack Plummer) au demi arrière (recrue King Doerue) au receveur (Moore, recruteurs Amsh Anderson Jr. et Kory Taylor, nouveaux déchiqueteurs bleus David Bell et Milton Wright). Mais le calendrier 2019 est implacable.
Par S & P +, Purdue commence la saison avec quatre matchs, tous projetés à moins de quatre points (au Nevada, à Vanderbilt, au TCU et dans le Minnesota). Les Boilers sont confrontés à des voyages de conférence en direction de Penn State, de l’Iowa et du Wisconsin et n’ont qu’une victoire confortable prévue toute l’année (l’Illinois à la maison). Chaque match peut être serré et émotionnellement chargé. Si la bonne recette offensive ne se présente pas rapidement, un départ comme 0-5 ou 1-4 est sur la table.
Bien sûr, il n'y en a pas beaucoup losses soit si Sindelar-to-Moore est puissant et que la défense reprend sa forme de 2017. Le record le plus probable de cette année (5-7 ou 6-6) est peut-être de plus en plus connu, mais il existe de nombreux écarts potentiels en fonction du rythme des Boilers et de leur rapidité.
Record et classement 2018: 4-8 (n ° 97 dans S & P +, n ° 79 dans FPI)
Projection S & P + 2019: 4.7 victoires (n ° 91)
Projection FPI 2019: 4.0 victoires (n ° 98)
Vous ne pouvez pas dire que Lovie Smith n'essaye pas de réparer les maux du programme de football de l'Illinois. Vous pouvez cependant vous demander s'il est capable de s'en sortir.
Deux ans (et seulement deux victoires en conférences) depuis son arrivée dans l'Illinois, Smith se trouva incapable de surmonter un problème minuscule et insidieux qui était ancré dans ses deux profondeurs: un manque écrasant de talents haut de gamme. C'est drôle comme quelque chose comme ça peut vous faire trébucher.
Dans ces deux saisons, l’Illinois était passé de stagnant (4,9 victoires par an au cours des huit saisons précédentes) à une très mauvaise performance. L’attaque de Smith était terrible (106e et 109e respectivement dans l’offensive S & P +), et bien que sa défense soit meilleure, relativement parlant, elle n’était pas assez bonne.
Pire encore, ce n'était pas comme si une unité particulièrement mauvaise – quart-arrière, offensive, secondaire ou autre – traînait les choses. Le manque de talent était complet; pas un seul joueur de l'Illinois n'a remporté de distinction toutes conférences en 2017.
C’est un problème difficile à maîtriser, du moins pas sans signer 15 transferts de juco dans une seule classe (et ainsi détruire la profondeur et l’équilibre de classes futurs) *. Mais à son crédit, Smith a fait de son mieux.
• Pour renforcer le misérable recrutement dans la région de Saint-Louis, il a embauché Cory Patterson, un jeune venu dans les rangs des entraîneurs du lycée de Saint-Louis, en tant qu'entraîneur aux extrémités serrées. Cela a rapidement porté ses fruits: en 2019, l'Illinois a signé trois espoirs de l'ESPN quatre étoiles de Saint-Louis: QB / ATH Isaiah Williams, LB Shammond Cooper et DE Moses Okpala.
• Pour établir une identité offensive plus forte dans laquelle recruter, il a fait appel à l'ancien assistant de Rich Rodriguez, Rod Smith, en tant que coordinateur de l'offensive. Il a également signé un contrat de transfert entre le quart-arrière à double menace AJ Bush Jr. et Virginia Tech. Bush s'est empressé d'acquérir 831 verges sans sac en 2018 et s'est associé au RB Reggie Corbin pour établir une attaque de précipitation vraiment excitante pour la première fois depuis longtemps.
* L’Illinois a déjà fait l’opération de chargement sur jucos, ce qui a presque entraîné le départ des Illini du Big Ten.
With an exciting identity and something resembling recruiting momentum (Illinois' class ended up ranking 52nd, just barely ahead of that of 2016 or 2017, but where the high-end talent came from was encouraging, if nothing else), the Illini did at least improve to 4-8 last fall.
Illinois looked randomly awesome, walloping Rutgers and Minnesota, scaring Penn State for a couple of quarters, and scoring big on Maryland and Nebraska. But the offensive improvement was tempered by defensive collapse. Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson resigned for health reasons in October, and Smith ended up taking on the DC role himself.
He also kept looking for talent upgrades into 2019. He succeeded to a degree and almost succeeded so much more.
Smith landed former blue-chippers from Alabama (OL Richie Petitbon), USC (DE Oluwole Betiku Jr. and WRs Trevon Sidney and Josh Imatorbhebhe), Washington (LB Milo Eifler) and Georgia (TE Luke Ford). For good measure, he added Valparaiso receiver transfer Donny Navarro, who averaged nearly 17 yards per catch at the low-FCS level.
Ford's request for immediate eligibility, however, was denied, and two more wide receiver transfer commitments — Miami's Jeff Thomas and Oklahoma's A.D. Miller — ended up returning to their original schools. Meanwhile, Bush graduated, and likely successor M.J. Rivers II announced he was transferring. Smith added Michigan transfer Brandon Peters, but he's not a runner.
Two steps forward, one and a half steps back.
Peters could be a stopgap if the mobile youngsters behind center — Williams, plus redshirt freshmen Matt Robinson and Coran Taylor — just can't handle passing responsibilities enough. But the best-case scenario is that one of the youngsters wins the job and does a solid Bush impersonation in the run game. Corbin and veterans Ra'Von Bonner, Mike Epstein, and Dre Brown combined to average 7.4 yards per carry, and Illinois returns four-fifths of last year's starting line. The talent upgrade at receiver could be particularly noticeable if opponents still have to fear a dynamic run.
The defense … well … we'll see. The Illini were bad against the pass and horrid against the run, and while they were extremely young — of the 19 players to make at least 10 tackles last year, 17 return, and 12 were freshmen or sophomores — the amount of actual talent isn't yet evident. Betiku and Eifler will be asked to live up to their recruiting rankings instantly, as could Cooper, Okpala, and four-star corner Marquez Beason. The athleticism is higher than it was a year ago, but there's a long way to go to even reach defensive mediocrity.
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