Pay less attention to who a team has played and more to how a team has played. I would love to hammer college football fans over the head with this mantra because this is a sport in which the go-to reaction for any fan when you say a team is good remains, "They ain't played nobody!"
It's a refrain I hear a lot when the discussing the 2023 Michigan team. No matter which metric you prefer, it cannot be denied that the Wolverines haven't played the most difficult schedule in the country, but it's not as bad as many want you to believe (UNLV and Rutgers are both 4-1 right now, their only losses being to Michigan). Nor do I care what the metric says about who Michigan has played because I have seen how Michigan plays.
The Wolverines dominate games in a fashion we haven't seen many teams do in recent years. The Wolverines haven't allowed anybody to score more than seven points in a game this season. While points allowed or yards allowed is an easy -- and often misleading -- way to judge a team, there's another metric I prefer to analyze this Wolverines team. Remember when the College Football Playoff system began and the selection committee started throwing out "game control" as a metric to show how well a team has played? Well, no team has controlled games quite like Michigan to this point.
The Wolverines have had a lead of at least 14 points for 62.17% of their snaps this season. To put in context how dominant that is, here's a look at how it compares to the past seven national champions during the regular season (available snap data only goes back to the 2016 season).
|Team||Pct. of Snaps with lead of 14+ (regular season only)|
As you can see, only the 2021 Georgia team that finished 14-1 with an all-time defense -- and smoked Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl -- finished with a higher rate. That's very impressive, but it remains to be seen whether the Wolverines will continue at this pace through the rest of the regular season.
But wait! There's more!
Do you know how many defensive snaps Michigan has taken inside its 10-yard line this season? None. Not a single offense has found itself in a first-and-goal situation against these Wolverines. No other team in the country can say that.
Taking it further, Michigan has only played 30 snaps inside its 30-yard line this season. That's an average of six per game. It's the lowest total in the country. The closest defenses to the Wolverines are Ohio State (34) and Kansas State (36), but the Buckeyes and Wildcats have played one fewer game than Michigan. Of Big Ten teams to have played five games, only Penn State (39) is close, which leads me to the next topic ...
The benefits of an elite defense
Coaches constantly harp about winning the field position battle, and no team in the Big Ten is doing a better job of it this year than Penn State. Thanks to an elite defense that gets stops and forces turnovers, the Nittany Lions offense is constantly being put in advantageous positions.
Penn State's average starting field position is its 36-yard line (actually, it's 35.9, but we'll round up). That's best in the Big Ten and ranks third nationally. It doesn't take a genius to know that the better your field position, the more likely you are to score points. Penn State exemplifies that better than anybody.
The Nittany Lions have had 60 offensive possessions this year and 15 (a quarter!) have begun at the 50-yard line or in opponent territory. The average drive distance of Penn State's 25 touchdown drives this season has been 55.6 yards. That's the second-shortest average distance in the conference, behind only Iowa -- but the Hawkeyes have scored only 10 touchdowns to Penn State's 25. Furthermore, 11 of Penn State's 25 touchdown drives have started in opponent territory. No other team in the Big Ten has more than seven (Maryland).
Most TD Drives of 50 Yards or Less— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) October 1, 2023
1. Penn State 11
2. Auburn 9
3. Jax State 8
3. Oklahoma 8
3. Syracuse 8
3. Texas A&M 8
3. UNLV 8
8. Maryland 7
8. Memphis 8
8. Rice 8
8. San Jose St 8
8. Texas St 8
8. Toledo 8
Clock is ticking on Tom Allen
Indiana fired offensive coordinator Walt Bell following the Hoosiers' 44-17 loss to Maryland. The move didn't come as a surprise because Bell's offenses in Bloomington, Indiana, the last two seasons have been bad. While Iowa and Northwestern have dominated the Bad Offense Spotlight, the truth is, Indiana's hasn't been much better. Since Bell took over for Kalen DeBoer in 2022, Indiana has had the least explosive offense in the conference. The Hoosiers' explosive play rate of 7.6 in Big Ten play is last by a wide margin.
Bell's dismissal is also a warning sign that head coach Tom Allen realizes he's in a tough spot. Allen took over the team from Kevin Wilson in 2017 and had initial success. The Hoosiers were 24-21 in Allen's first four seasons, culminating in the 6-2 record during the 2020 season. But a lot has changed since. Allen has seen coordinators like DeBoer and Kane Wommack leave for head coaching jobs elsewhere. Alabama poached staff from the strength and conditioning department. Oh, and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. left, too.
The Indiana defense has continued to hold up its end of the bargain, but the program has come up short replacing the rest. They're now 8-21 overall and 2-18 in Big Ten play since the start of the 2021 season. The Michigan State job is already open, but if I were to bet on the next Big Ten job on the market, it'd be the one in Bloomington.
Gut reads of the week
Every week I pick every Big Ten game against the spread based on nothing but my gut reaction to the number. No digging into numbers, just vibes, baby. I even track my record to embarrass myself publicly. Odds via SportsLine consensus.
Maryland at No. 4 Ohio State: It was not long ago that I told you to worry less about who a team has played and more about how it has played. Maryland is 5-0, and while it's schedule hasn't been difficult, it has handled the teams put in front of it fairly easy. Unfortunately for the Terrapins, I don't know how much it'll matter against Ohio State. I have seen Taulia Tagovailoa panic when pressured far too often to want to back him on the road against an Ohio State defense that's done an excellent job of getting pressure this season. Nor do I believe the Maryland secondary can do the same job on Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka that Notre Dame did. Ohio State -19.5
- Nebraska at Illinois (Friday) -- Illinois -3.5
- Rutgers at Wisconsin -- Rutgers +14
- Purdue at Iowa -- Iowa -2.5
- No. 2 Michigan at Minnesota -- Michigan -20.5
Last Week: 2-4