The new normal doesn’t take prisoners. Or suffer fools. For the first time since the Big Ten realigned in 2014, the conference’s East Division featured four schools that won at least 8 games in the regular season in 2017. For the first time in the three seasons of The Jim Harbaugh Era, the Michigan Wolverines didn’t beat a team with a winning record during the regular season.
The latter, given the revolving door at quarterback, might’ve been a fluke. A one-off. But the former, Big Ten analyst Gerry DiNardo says, almost certainly was not.
“I mean, they need a quarterback to turn this thing around,” DiNardo said of the Wolverines, who, at 8-4 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten play, finished outside the East’s top 3 for the first time in three seasons.
“And I’ve been saying all along: ‘They were behind schedule.’ Whose schedule? Is it Urban [Meyer]’s schedule — three years, national championship? James Franklin’s — three years, Big Ten championship?
“I’m backing off that, because this is the East Division — four traditional powers who are all rocking and rolling.”
Michigan’s passers — Wilton Speight, John O’Korn and Brandon Peters — battled injuries (Speight and Peters) and ineffectiveness (O’Korn and, well, Speight again) from the jump this fall, save for a 3½-game run by Peters, a redshirt freshman, against Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland and Wisconsin that seemed almost remarkable at the time for its relative adequacy.
The Wolverines finished the regular season 11 th in the Big Ten in passing offense (168.6 yards per game) and in passing efficiency (115.5) while totaling just 9 touchdown throws over 12 games.
Ohio State (37 touchdown passes), Penn State (30) and Michigan State (17) averaged 28 scores.
‘The Big Two and The Little Eight … those days are long gone.’
— BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo
“He needs to have a quarterback in four years, or at least the promise [of one], because this is what the East Division is going to be, unless something changes,” DiNardo continued.
“I don’t see anything changing. [Spartans coach] Mark Dantonio isn’t recruiting the top recruits but he’s a great coach. The other three, I don’t see them changing who they’re going to be recruiting.”
To wit: Among 247Sports.com’s composite team recruiting rankings as of early Wednesday, the top 5 classes in the Big Ten for 2018 all hailed from the East — Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Maryland and Michigan State. Among the 2017 classes, the East accounted for five of the league’s top six recruiting hauls.
“This is the first time in the history of the Big Ten with all [four schools] with outstanding coaches playing divisional play,” DiNardo noted. “No one has ever been in this environment in the history of the Big Ten. And so I think we’ve got to look at it a little differently. It’s not what it used to be.
“Michigan, Ohio State, it was The Big Two and The Little Eight … those days are long gone.”
Michigan was 0-4 in league play against teams with winning records — Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State, the top four teams in the loop. The Wolverines’ best league pelt came via a 28-10 win at Purdue (6-6, 4-5) on Sept. 23.
That Boilermakers victory, funny enough, is also the last game Speight started in a Wolverines uniform. Three redshirt juniors — Speight, wideout Drake Harris, and another quarterback, Alex Malzone — announced this week that they intend to transfer and pursue their final seasons of eligibility at other schools, as allowed by NCAA graduate transfer rules.
“It probably makes it simpler,” DiNardo said. “I think they feel like they’ve got Peters, and then they’ve got the [Dylan] McCaffrey kid, so they’re probably counting on that. Speight has been there a few years, really hasn’t worked out as well. It’s worked out a little bit, but probably not as well as [he] would like. So it probably simplifies things.
“I think in college football, the player feels more mobile now. I just think that [probably] that this is what we’re dealing with now, so I don’t think it’s that unusual. Especially at quarterback — they want to play if they can, to find a place where they can play. O’Korn leaves Houston to go to Michigan, right? It’s all the same stuff.”
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