Three-Point Stance: Five-year plans, Big Ten, Heisman Trophy
Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with five-year projections for certain Big Ten programs, a look at how the Big Ten could turn into a mess and his latest Heisman top five.
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1. INTERESTING FUTURE BIG TEN MATCH-UPS
It’s time to look into the future in each Power Five conference and compare where I think certain teams will stand against each other. I start with the Big Ten and a few interesting five-year plans.
Ohio State vs. Penn State — I know we will see Ryan Day at Ohio State but will James Franklin still be at Penn State? I doubt it. The Buckeyes have the recruiting advantage and I don’t see them budging from the top spot of the Big Ten while Penn State will remain a step behind.
Michigan State vs. Michigan — This is an interesting one because I assume Jim Harbaugh will still be at Michigan but I doubt Mel Tucker is at MSU, as the SEC will come calling soon. While Harbaugh hasn’t been successful at Michigan I have to give him the edge based on the uncertainty I have of the future coach of Michigan State.
Iowa vs. Wisconsin — Kirk Ferentz will likely be gone in five years and who knows who will be his replacement although Iowa fans fear it might be his son. Paul Chryst needs to right the ship at Wisconsin after a couple of down seasons but I can’t see them moving on from him. Both teams will remain predictable in style but Wisconsin will likely be more consistent.
Minnesota vs. Nebraska — Why did I choose this one? Because it’s always interesting to project where Nebraska will be and the fan base absolutely hates Minnesota and PJ Fleck. Fleck is not a hot name in coaching circles anymore so it will be interesting to see if he’s still around and I know Scott Frost won’t be around in five years. I’d gamble on Minnesota here based on the luck Nebraska has had with hires.
2. PLAYOFF DOOMSDAY SCENARIO FOR BIG TEN
How about the Big Ten? Did anyone expect this? The conference producing four potential playoff contenders at this stage of the season would have been unthinkable before the season. But how about none at the end of the season? That is possible.
Even though the conference right now has four teams that are undefeated or have just one loss, there's a real scenario where all of these teams (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa) all end up with two or more losses heading into the conference title game. For that to happen we would need Penn State to beat Ohio State, Michigan State to beat Michigan and Iowa to lose to Wisconsin this weekend. That would need to be followed by Michigan State losses to Purdue and Ohio State, and then Michigan falling to Ohio State. Is this going to happen? Odds are against it stacking up exactly this way, but there's definitely a world in which this scenario (or a very similar one) plays out.
Even though the Buckeyes only have one loss, I don't think anyone would doubt that Ohio State is the best team in the conference. I mean would you pick Michigan or Michigan State over the Buckeyes, no matter where the game is being played? I sure wouldn't. But that's not to say that they are unbeatable, as Oregon showed us earlier this season. The Spartans have started to come back to earth a little bit after their blazing hot start, and they've had unsteady quarterback play so you know teams will be keying in even more on Kenneth Walker III. And while Michigan definitely has a better defense than Michigan State, if the Wolverines fall behind early in a game I don't trust Cade McNamara to be able to bring them back down two scores.
In the West, there are still in fact three teams that technically control their own destiny by winning out - Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes and Gophers both have one conference loss, and Wisconsin has two, but all three of these teams have yet to play each other. So if any of them are able to run the table then they're heading to Indianapolis, no questions asked.
Iowa and Wisconsin are mirror images of each other outside in many ways - both teams have outstanding defenses and poor offenses and try to control the clock. But Iowa has the advantage in special teams and turnover margin. Minnesota, despite being on its third tailback of the season, is still churning out rushing yards and its offensive line is as good as its division mates. Iowa could absolutely lose to one or both of these teams. The fact that it is an underdog this weekend at Wisconsin shows how little confidence Vegas has, despite the massive flaws of this Badger team.
If this scenario were to play out with all of the Big Ten teams having at least two losses, the playoff gets even more interesting. We're almost definitely getting Georgia no matter what, and should get Alabama if it runs the table. Cincinnati is in good shape, but still got a potent SMU team on the schedule. Oklahoma is undefeated but more than capable of losing to most anyone in the Big 12, as evidenced by the struggles with Kansas this past weekend.
The Pac-12 is banking on Oregon to finish strong, but the Ducks still have to play at Utah, which is one of the toughest environments in the country. If Wake Forest or Pittsburgh manages to finish without a loss (or in Pitt's case, a second loss), you could definitely see one of them making the playoff.
But it all comes back to the Big Ten at the end of the day. A one-loss Big Ten champion is getting in pretty much no matter what (especially if that team is Ohio State), but what if everyone has two losses? We could have chaos.
3. HEISMAN HOT LIST
Finally, here is my latest Heisman list.
1. QB Bryce Young, Alabama - Young stepped into an Alabama offense that had fewer returning pieces than any other season in recent memory, having lost not only Mac Jones, but the top two receivers, running back, tight end, and more than half of the offensive line from the title-winning team of last season. He's completing more than 70 percent of his passes and has 26 touchdowns to only three interceptions.
2. QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss - The betting favorite just two weeks ago, Corral has cooled off a bit but is still near the top of most Heisman leaderboards. The former four-star recruit has been a perfect fit in Lane Kiffin's offense, and he's done a great job adding a running element to his game. He has 26 total touchdowns on the season, and only one interception. With Alabama in the rearview mirror, he has a chance to put up some monster numbers against the likes of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
3. QB Kenny Pickett, Pitt - The rise of Pickett has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, and his growth as a passer has come hand in hand with Pittsburgh's ascendancy to the top of the ACC. The senior quarterback has been truly outstanding, with 25 touchdowns to only one interception, and the fourth-highest QB rating in the country. With Pitt now at 6-1, and having already beaten Clemson, the Panthers are now the favorite to win the conference and might be the only shot that the ACC has at putting a team in the playoff. If they manage to run the table, you can bet that Pickett will be a Heisman finalist.
4. RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State - The lone running back on my list, Walker has emerged as the top back in the country after transferring to Michigan State from Wake Forest in the offseason. He leads the nation in yards per game and already has topped the 200-yard mark twice. Walker is the engine that makes the Michigan State offense go and is the main reason that the Spartans are off to a 7-0 start. But with their toughest stretch of games in front of them, time will tell if he's able to continue to put the team on his back.
5. QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State - Stroud started the season in a bit of an up-and-down manner, with his low point not coming in the Buckeyes' lone loss of the season to Oregon, but instead the following week against Tulsa, where he struggled to find consistency. After sitting out a week due to injury against Akron, Stroud has come back with a vengeance, going 62-for-90 for 1,002 yards, with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions in those three games. He currently sits second in the nation in passing efficiency and yards per attempt (just behind Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall), seventh in touchdowns passes despite playing fewer games than anyone above him, and seventh in yards per game. If the Buckeyes run the table, he's going to be in New York.