No time is a good time for a high profile scandal within a power-five college football program. If there is such a thing as a “worst” time, it is probably less than a month before opening kickoff.
In the Big Ten’s East Division no less than two high profile scandals are unfolding right now as the teams attempt to avoid distraction and power through fall camps.
Today we take a look at the latest with those two major stories and more broadly look at one of the nation’s best football conference divisions.
Maryland announced Saturday that head football coach DJ Durkin has been placed on administrative leave after reports of a toxic environment within the Terrapin program. This development came after three staff members were also put on leave following an ESPN report that detailed a coaching environment based on abuse and intimidation within the program. Additionally, related questions persist about the workout that led to the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair.
Former IU player and assistant coach Matt Canada is the interim coach.
While the particulars have never been fully disclosed, the situation at least brings to mind the scenario that lead to the resignation of former Indiana head football coach Kevin Wilson back in 2016.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave last week, as the school announced it is investigating claims that several people close to Meyer knew of a 2015 allegation of domestic violence against Courtney Smith by her ex-husband, and former Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith, who was fired in July.
With Ohio State’s investigation into Urban Meyer expected to wrap up within two weeks, the Buckeyes should know whether he’s coaching them before their September 1 season opener against Oregon State. Ryan Day is the interim head coach.
THERE IS STILL GOING TO BE FOOTBALL IN THREE WEEKS
Clearly these developments represent significant events that could impact the course of the 2018 season. Given the nature of the underlying issues, it doesn’t feel appropriate to consider the football implications, but the season will go on.
Hoosier fans shouldn’t be quick to assume that either of these instances will lead to an advantage on the field or in the standings. While Urban Meyer’s coaching track record speaks for itself, Ohio State is a deeply talented program with capable assistant coaches. Moreover, it continues to be possible that Meyer returns to the team before or during the season.
In the case of Maryland, it is too soon to fully comprehend what the on-field implications might be, but it isn’t difficult to imagine this situation ending up being a rallying point for the program as they enter the season. These are proud young men that will be on a mission. Alternatively, the whole thing could implode. It is just too soon to tell.
THIS MAY BE THE BEST EDITION OF THE BIG TEN EAST YET
Taking a step back from the controversies, the Big Ten East is arguably the best football division in the country. The SEC West is better top to bottom, but no division can claim a top four better than Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. That group is currently all ranked in the top 15 going into the 2018 season.
The Buckeyes are replacing long-time quarterback J.T. Barrett, but some feel that Dwayne Haskins could end up being an upgrade. At least prior to the Meyer saga, Ohio State was widely viewed as the favorite in the East and the conference as a whole.
The Buckeyes are dominant up front on both sides of the ball, and should have one of the best running attacks in the country behind J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber.
The Nittany Lions have suffered significant losses but have the best returning quarterback in the conference in Trace McSorley which should provide stability. Penn State lost running back Saquon Barkley, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki, as well as eight starters on defense.
This is a big season for Jim Harbaugh, and the Wolverines appear ready to have a strong campaign. After dealing with significant roster turnover and quarterback issues in 2017, Michigan returns most of their top players on both sides of the ball. Additionally, the Wolverines will have Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson at quarterback, who is widely expected to be a major upgrade.
Big Ten East foes know better by now than to sleep on Michigan State. Mark Dantonio’s teams are always competitive and seem to exceed expectations. This particular edition of the Spartans will be highly experienced, as MSU returns 10 starters on offense and nine on defense. They will be a tough out even for the the conference’s best teams.
BEST OF THE REST
Maryland, Rutgers and of course Indiana round out the division. All three programs share the distinction of having relatively new coaches with Tom Allen entering his second season, and Durkin and Chris Ash entering their third seasons.
Prior to the developing scandal at Maryland, most prognosticators had either the Hoosiers or Terrapins picked in fifth place, with a fairly strong consensus that the Scarlet Knights will bring up the rear.
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