The state of the B1G summarized in 14 figures
First of all, a caveat.
This is an article involving math and the Big Ten. And if there’s one place where the numbers can be misleading, it’s a 14-team conference called the Big Ten. Even the league logo hides a number inside some letters.
That said, the following numbers seem to provide a pretty accurate sum for the first quarter of the 2021 season, so let’s take a look at the B1G in numbers. Classified, of course, in numerical order.
It will be the only fraction. Promise.
This number represents Indiana’s schedule as measured by the Top 10 opponents. Not opponents of the Big Ten. Top 10 opponents.
And if we really analyze it, the 7 best opponents. Penn State’s No.4 is the third such enemy the Hoosiers will face in 5 weeks, joining No.5 from Iowa and No.7 from Cincinnati. In all likelihood, this will be Indiana’s third loss in those games.
What does it mean?
There is no B1G team more difficult to assess than the Hoosiers. They’ve lost to who they’re supposed to. They beat who they’re supposed to. And it may be a while before we figure out who their peer teams are this season.
That’s the yards per play allowed by the Northwestern defense, which ranks 13th in the B1G. Last year, the Wildcats stepped up their defense until the Conference Championship game, finishing second in the league with 4.86 yards per game allowed.
This number shows why a repeat performance is out of the question.
That’s Rutgers ‘revenue margin, which is a big part of the Scarlet Knights’ good September.
It’s also worth noting that that number was plus-8 before a 20-13 loss to Michigan. Rutgers couldn’t get take-out – no one who played in Michigan did – and his first turnover came at the worst possible time as quarterback Noah Vedral dropped the ball on the potential tie of the match at the end of the fourth quarter.
Michigan State is second in the B1G with 7.25 tackles for a loss per game, behind only Wisconsin.
The surprising offense of the 17th-ranked Spartans received most of the ink early on – that’s what happens when it’s a surprise – but that number reminds us that it’s still a Mel Tucker team. And that means it’s built on defense.
Iowa has 9 forced turnovers, which is good for the 10th nationally. But it’s not just that the Hawkeyes are getting takeout in bunches. That’s what they do with them.
The Iowa defense has already scored 3 touchdowns. In their most recent game against Colorado State, the Iowa defense recovered a fumble that allowed the offense to score a 6-yard touchdown in the very next game. on the board, they blocked a Kent State touchdown with a forced fumble at the goal line.
Essentially, the Iowa defense has created a 35-point swing this season just when it comes to its take-out.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford leads the B1G with 9.7 yards per attempted pass. He is also second in the conference for the passers score (171.68) and the completion percentage (71.7%).
The Nittany Lions have a number of flaws, but passing the ball is not one of them thanks to Clifford and his rock-solid targets. Jahan Dotson leads the league with 27 catches and 4 touchdowns. Parker Washington is fifth with 23 receptions. KeAndre Lambert-Smith can get the better of any defense averaging 18 yards per catch.
If Penn State wins the B1G, it will do it by air.
Nebraska ranks 14th in the Big Ten in the following special team categories:
- Field goals: 50% (5 out of 10)
- PAT accuracy: 83.3% (15 out of 18)
- Punt: 36.1 yards per punt
- Punt returns: 1.1 yards per return
- Opponent’s punt returns: 23 yards per return
If the Cornhuskers were even a mid-level special teams unit in the conference, we’re talking about a Nebraska team ranked 4-1 or maybe even 5-0. Instead, the specialists at Huskers are pathetic in every way they can, and they are a 2-3 team that will struggle just to reach for bowl play.
Michigan is 127th nationally with an average of 16.3 attempted passes per game. Only the Navy, Army and Air Force have thrown the ball less, and each of these service academies offers the triple option.
But for now it’s working. The Wolverines are undefeated and ranked 14th. And we might be faced with a fascinating dichotomy if the Big Ten East race comes down to the Nittany Lions happy to pass against the strong-running Wolverines.
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has 23 assists from 20 yards or more, propelling an explosive offense for the Terrapins in her first 4-0 start since 2016.
Like Clifford, he enjoys great weapons to work with. Senior Dontay Demus Jr. leads the Big Ten with 111.5 yards per game. Demus and sophomore Rakim Jarrett each have 3 touchdowns.
At the very least, it will be fascinating to see if that number can rise against the strong Iowa defense this week.
Just like the previous number, only moving in the opposite direction.
Illinois allowed 25 passes over 20 yards, almost double that of Maryland, which is the B1G’s 13th defense in this category.
High school is the area most in need of Bret Bielema’s first recruiting class.
Purdue is tied at the conference top with Maryland and Ohio State with 50 goals from 10 yards or more. Pretty good company!
The problem is, while Boilermakers can get off the field, their train isn’t a rocket. Purdue is only 7th in the conference with 11 completed passes from 20 yards or more. Opposing defenses will be content to play David Bell’s zone and support, unless the Boilers find some other form of downstream fission. This will certainly not come from their flat backfield, which is the last of the B1G with 9 races over 10 meters.
Minnesota senior quarterback Tanner Morgan provided 52.8 percent of his passes. It is 116th in the country.
Again, not a real freshman thrown in the fire because the starter was injured the week before the opening. It’s a 4 year old beginner. And his game was terrible. Either way, his 2 worst performances came against MAC opponents.
Morgan looked great in sophomore, making 66% of his throws in 2019 for 30 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. But the past 2 seasons have been nothing but an ugly regression, and that is holding back the Gophers in their attempt to switch from rowboat to motorboat.
The Ohio State defense allowed a remarkable 68 plays from 10 yards or more, a number that places the Buckeyes 114th nationally in that category. Buckeyes fans might consider it a good thing if this team doesn’t make it to the playoffs, as it could be a mercy killing compared to what would happen against a Top 4 offense.
And it’s not just that the Buckeyes are dropping pieces. Ohio State’s red zone defense is also grim, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 73.3% of their moves inside the 20. That touchdown percentage ranks 109th nationally.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz ranks 114th out of 119 eligible FBS quarterbacks with a passer rating of 97.73. So it could be worse.
Wisconsin’s whole offense has been lousy no matter where it is on the pitch, but nowhere is that truer than the red zone.
The Badgers converted 38.4% of their trips in the red zone to touchdowns, the 122nd in the country. Heck, Wisconsin only scored on 61.5% of their trips in the 20. Only 3 teams with 4-letter names – Ohio, Rice, and Navy – are doing worse.
But it does make sense. Because the Wisconsin offense itself was a 4 letter word.