1. The Big Ten missing out on the College Football Playoff for the third straight year is telling – Ohio State has been the only program from the Big Ten that has competed at an elite level nationally for more than two decades. Penn State, at its recent best, still was beaten by Southern California in the Rose Bowl. MSU’s appearance in the CFP was an absolute dud vs. Alabama. Michigan hasn’t won anything of note since the 2004 Big Ten championship. The Big Ten had a really good bowl record last season (Michigan had the only loss), and Ohio State did get a CFP title, which was unexpected. But for the most part, the Big Ten continues to underperform. And it’s future as a true powerbroker nationally is even more iffy with the departure of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
2. Michigan must make recruiting gains in Ohio – Jim Harbaugh, and Brady Hoke before him, did make inroads recruiting nationally. What has been missing is impact from Ohio. You know, like Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard, who won the Heisman Trophy for the Wolverines. Bo Schembechler’s early teams were dominated by players from Ohio. Remember Jim Mandich, the great tight end being carried off the field following the big upset of the Buckeyes in ’69? Dennis Franklin, the star quarterback in the early ‘70s? They were from Ohio, as have been so many outstanding players in Michigan’s lore. That hasn’t been a case for a long time. Ohio State gets everybody it wants, and often the leftovers go Michigan State, which has featured such stars as Le’Veon Bell and Connor Cook, to just start, from Ohio. Several of MSU’s best current players, linebacker Joe Bachie, Andrew and David Dowell, cornerback Justin Layne and cornerback Josiah Scott, are from Ohio. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is from the state and has deep roots, as well, because of his tenure as an Ohio State assistant and head coach at Cincinnati. His defensive coordinator, Mike Tressel, is Jim Tressel’s son. Doesn’t seem like Harbaugh is well-received on the recruiting trail in Ohio, which wasn’t the case for Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr during the Wolverines’ salad days.
3. Mark Danontio and MSU’s offense – The Spartans owe a debt of gratitude to Dantonio because MSU’s success over more than a decade span was, frankly, unimagined. Dantonio dealt with the serious off-the-field issues as well possible and a 3-9 season, and got back into good graces with a Spartan Nation very willing to forgive and forget with that 10-3 season that featured another win over Michigan in 2017. But…MSU’s offense was so bad in 2018, it’s really chipped away at Dantonio’s cache. The Spartans had one touchdown combined vs. Michigan and Ohio State, on a 7-yard drive resorting to a trick play. They had one TD vs. Arizona State, none against Nebraska and MSU was nearly upset at home by Rutgers. Dantonio is always willing to pull out gadget plays, and that’s fine, but his base offense looks like it was derived from the 1972 Zanesville High School play book. It’s not merely as simple as removing longtime play caller Dave Warner, but Dantonio being willing to freshen up the offense because the Spartans remain seriously formable defensively.
4. What is with the Big Ten West – With all due respect to Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats, but come on. Wisconsin definitely has taken a step back. The Badgers are playing analog football in the digital age and it caught up to them this season. If Iowa loses its bowl game, it will be the eighth time in 10 years the Hawkeyes have won either seven or eight games. Kirk Ferentz is nothing else if not consistently, well, OK. Nebraska should be a sleeping giant because Scott Frost is a terrific coach, but the Cornhuskers have fallen badly behind the curve. In an ideal world, Notre Dame would join the Big Ten, be placed in the West with Michigan and balance would rule the conference. But that isn’t happening, especially with all the free passes the college football world gives to the Fighting Irish. And now that it has finally made the CFP, ND will be particularly insufferable.
5. Hey, Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat – The Harbaugh-to-the-NFL buzz seems odd considering the way his defense surrendered in Columbus. Next year is the fork-in-the-road season. Harbaugh will be in the fifth year of seven-year deal, with a team that has disappointed because of raised expectations, if not necessarily underachieved. Notre Dame, MSU and Ohio State will visit Michigan Stadium next season. The Wolverines will take the field only with Harbaugh recruits. The 2019 season should be the time for Harbaugh at Michigan, or perhaps it never will be.