Big Ten Football Basement Dwellers: Is Minnesota or Indiana the Worst?
One aspect of conference expansion that has been widely criticized is the fact that adding teams and splitting conferences into divisions waters down schedules. This year Penn State isn't playing either team from Michigan, Iowa doesn't play Wisconsin or Ohio State and Michigan misses Wisconsin.
All of these matchups are between teams that are either fighting for a berth in the conference championship game, or until recently were prominently involved in the race.
To miss marquee matchups between some of the leagues powers for years at a time is unacceptable, but that ignores something equally unacceptable that doesn't get talked about: how are we supposed to figure out who the worst team in the conference is if the bottom dwellers don't play each other?
Sure, you might tell me that watching Penn State play Michigan State or Michigan play Wisconsin means more to you than watching the slap fight that would inevitably be an Indiana vs. Minnesota matchup, but there is one thing that we cannot do without this abomination of a football game: definitively state which team is the Big Ten's worst.
The only way to solve this dilemma? A gauntlet of incompetence, a decathlon of suck, a point-by-point determination of just how awful each of these teams is with numbers and wildly subjective judgments.
In ten categories we will award an L for the loser and at the end, the team with the most L's will be crowned the worst Big Ten team of the year.
With that, I wish both contestants the worst of luck. May God have mercy on these two fan bases.
The Hoosiers rush offense is led by running back Stephen Houston, who is currently averaging 63 yards per game. Houston has really come on as of late after a slow start to the season.
Bolstering Indiana's production on the ground has been the emergence of quarterback Tre Roberson. After being buried on the depth chart to begin the season, Roberson has taken the starting job and already put up 337 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Right now Indiana is 56th overall in the nation and eighth in the conference in rush yards per game with 163.
Minnesota's main rushing option is quarterback MarQueis Gray, who is currently eighth in the conference with 71 yards per game. Other than Gray, the Gophers depend on a duo of running backs, Duane Bennett (468 yards, three touchdowns) and Donnell Kirkwood (205 yards, three touchdowns).
The Gophers are 76th in the nation and next to last in the Big Ten with 140 yards per game.
And the L goes to: Minnesota
The Hoosiers' game of quarterback musical chairs hasn't had a huge impact on the team's production through the air. Indiana has three quarterbacks with over 400 yards of passing and three touchdowns this season. Edward Wright-Baker has the most with 979 yards, Roberson has 698 and Dusty Kiel has 427.
Together, the Hoosier quarterbacks combine to make one 2,100-yard passer completing 56 percent of its passes and ranking 98th in the country in pass efficiency.
Minnesota, however, just has MarQueis Gray. Gray has passed for 1,286 yards on a 52 percent completion rate. Other than that, freshman Max Shortell has gotten some time and passed for just 309 yards while completing half of his passes.
Needless to say, the numbers for Minnesota are worse, as in second to last in pass offense in the conference and 106th in pass efficiency in the nation.
And the L goes to: Minnesota
Indiana is giving away rushing yards like Oprah gives out free crap to her audience. The Hoosiers are 118th overall in rush defense, giving up just shy of 250 yards per game—100 more yards than Wisconsin (the top team in the conference in pass yards allowed) allows per game.
The Hoosiers are also 86th in tackles for loss per game at five.
Minnesota is having a little more luck slowing other teams down on the ground. The Gophers are allowing 200 yards per game, good for 101st in the nation.
This is still next to last in the conference, which puts into perspective just how bad Indiana has been at stopping the run. If the next worst team in the conference is 45 yards per game better at run defense, you've got some work to do.
Minnesota is also getting just under five tackles for loss per game.
And the L goes to: Indiana
Indiana's surprisingly good raw pass defense numbers might lead one to believe that the Hoosiers are better than average in the secondary; they are after all 41st in the nation with 206 pass yards allowed.
However, two caveats: first, it is easy to figure teams aren't in a hurry to pass when Indiana is giving out yards on the ground like they were candy; and second, the Hoosiers are still 114th in pass efficiency defense, meaning they aren't very good when other teams do throw the ball.
Luckily, Minnesota is worse. The Gophers are giving up more yards per game through the air (230) with nearly an identical pass efficiency defensive rank (113th).
On top of that, Minnesota is the worst team in the conference in generating sacks, with just 1.2 per game.
And the L goes to: Minnesota
Both teams are relatively even when it comes to kicking field goals. Minnesota has connected on eight of 11 so far (73 percent) while Indiana is at 11 of 14 (79 percent).
However, Minnesota is a much better team when it comes to the rest of the special teams categories. In both punting categories the Gophers come in around average (68th in net punting, 64th in punt returns).
Kick return average is where Minnesota really excels, averaging 24 yards per return, good for 29th in the country, while also tallying two kick return touchdowns.
Indiana isn't nearly as good in the return game. The Hoosiers are 95th nationally in punt returns and 117th in kick returns. On top of that, Indiana is 81st in net punting on the year.
And the L goes to: No contest, it's Indiana.
Below are the two common Big Ten opponents* and the margin of victory for each.
Iowa: +1 (Minn), -21 (Ind)
Wisconsin: -29 (Minn), -52 (Ind)
And the L goes to: Indiana, because Minnesota and the transitive property of college football laugh at the Hoosier's puny effort against Iowa.
*(Minnesota still has games against Illinois and Northwestern, while Indiana still has games against Michigan State and Purdue. After the last two games the teams will have six common Big Ten opponents, and we will have a better picture. For now, lolz Indiana.)
Indiana's most lopsided loss of the year was unquestionably the 59-7 beatdown that Wisconsin administered in Madison. The most embarrassing loss is probably the season opener against Ball State; Big Ten teams schedule MAC-rifices for a reason, and that reason isn't spirited competition.
Minnesota's most lopsided loss also functions as the worst beating any Big Ten team took from any other Big Ten team this year: the 58-0 shutout that Michigan scored against the Gophers in the opening week of the Big Ten season.
This could easily serve as the most embarrassing loss as well, but we will save that distinction for North Dakota.
And the L goes to: Minnesota. This one is no contest.
Best (or only) Win
Indiana beat FCS South Carolina State. Even though this is the Hoosier's only win, an FCS win is never your best win.
Minnesota got a real, live BCS conference victory over a team that has actually shown an ability to play football at a moderate level. Two weeks ago Minnesota upset Iowa with a 12-0 fourth quarter that relied on a recovered onside kick and a three-and-out.
And the L goes to: Indiana. You don't win against a FCS team; you survive.
Minnesota has Goldy the Gopher, a lovable mascot that is recognizable and marketable, not to mention involved in the greatest college football promotional video in history.
Indiana's mascot is a Hoosier: a person from Indiana. Lame.
And the L goes to: Indiana
*(Yes, this category was created just to take a shot at Indiana while finding an excuse to link to the Midas Touch video. Deal with it.)
Hope for the Future
According to Rivals.com, Indiana has the ninth best class coming in 2012 right now, and is still somewhat involved with five-star Gunner Kiel, brother of current Indiana quarterback Dusty.
Minnesota's class is dead last in the Big Ten, despite having a similar star rating to Indiana (2.60 for Minnesota, 2.63 for Indiana) and having 20 current commits to Indiana's 16.
And the L goes to: Push. Neither of these teams have a standout class (which could change quickly if Kiel comes back in the fold for Indiana).
With one push, the vote stands at five to four. The loser is...
The Gophers may not have a statistical edge over Indiana outside of special teams and run defense, but Minnesota has won one more game, and did so against a legitimately decent Big Ten team. Indiana, on the other hand, only has a win over an FCS team to its name.
And with that, we can all rest easier that we don't require a game between these two affronts to the game of football to properly judge which is worth of more of our scorn and contempt than the other.
Congrats, Indiana. You suck.