Wrapping up the weekend that was in the Land of 10, Week 4 …
The Point After
And welcome to the great Yankee conundrum: You can’t have freedom — true freedom, the freedom that the United States has made its bedrock for more than 230 years — without the freedom of dissent.
It’s a discussion that goes back long before college football players at Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska elected to raise their fists or kneel Saturday during the national anthem. What makes America remarkable is the fact we can call America out. That we can absolutely despise what someone says, but in the same breath recognize their right to say it anyway.
“As long as it’s done in a peaceful way, this is America,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio told reporters who asked about the raised fists of three Michigan State players before Saturday’s conference opener against Wisconsin. “And that’s what the flag stands for. It stands for the freedom to do what you need to do. And that’s the beautiful thing about this country.”
A summer hot with racial tensions — specifically, conflicts between the African-American community and local police — hasn’t cooled with the onset of the fall. A black man was shot by authorities in Charlotte, N.C., last week, sparking night after night of riots. A few days before that, an unarmed black man was shot by a police officer in Tulsa, Okla., pouring salt on an open, national wound.
Racist graffiti was recently discovered on the campus at Eastern Michigan, roughly a 15-minute drive from the Wolverines’ base in Ann Arbor. The closer to home, the closer it hits to the heart.
Taking inspiration from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneels during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a trio of Spartans — Delton Williams, Kenney Lyke and Gabe Sherrod — held fists in the air during pregame ceremonies in East Lansing. A handful of Wolverines players — including standout cornerback Jourdan Lewis — did the same in Ann Arbor a few hours later.
Cornhuskers Mohamed Barry, DaiShon Neal and Michael Rose-Ivey were seen kneeling during ceremonies in advance of the Nebraska-Northwestern game in Evanston, a gesture that did not go gently into that good night:
— Mary Teresa Avila (@AlsCatholicGal) September 25, 2016
— Barbara Tracy (@BarbaraTracy_7) September 25, 2016
Nebraska coach Mike Riley later defended his players’ right to civil protest, a tone echoed by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio:
Dantonio has no problem with 3 players who raised fist during anthem: “This is America. And that’s what the flag stands for.”
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) September 24, 2016
And this was the Spartans coach’s statement in full, as recounted in the Detroit Free Press:
“We talked about this three or four weeks ago, your patriotism, your faith are sort of the same thing,” Dantonio said to reporters. “That’s it, that’s your choice, and it’s influenced by what you’ve experienced in this world. And so whether someone salutes, puts a hand over their heart or does something else, everybody has a choice to make.
“We’re in college, our young people are in college. And I can promise you one thing – that when the flag is presented in some respect, I guess it becomes much more important now. It’s not just, ‘Oh, by the way, here is the Star Spangled Banner.’ I guess they have decisions that people have to make. And as long as it’s done in a peaceful way, this is America. And that’s what the flag stands for. It stands for that freedom to do what you need to do. And that’s the beautiful thing about this country.
“At this point in time, when the true enemy comes, I guess we’ll all stand together. But I can’t make assumptions for our players on what they’ve gone through in their lives. All I can do is try and lead them the best way I can and be positive and accepting to our football team and our players. And when we come together after the national anthem, we come together in solidarity.”
Cynics might brand Dantonio’s statement as more about pragmatism than empathy, but the sentiment stands. The players have their reasons. Their experiences. Their reservations. Their world views. They also have the right to express the latter in a peaceful, non-obstructive manner. Because true freedom, at its very core, means defending all opinions — even ones perceived as unpopular, unpatriotic, and downright ungrateful. For some, silent protests during the national anthem represent America at its ugliest. For others, it underscores the very reason why this is the greatest nation on Earth.
Things that impressed the CFP committee
- A win over then-No. 5 LSU on a neutral site. A 24-point win at then-No. 8 Michigan State. Ohio State fans will raise a hand and mutter “(cough) Oklahoma” (cough),” but nobody in the Big Ten, to this point, owns a pair of victories through four weeks as impressive as the ones Wisconsin (4-0) snatched in Week 1 and in Week 4.
- No Michigan team had ever hung 49 points on Penn State, anywhere. Until Saturday.
- If the Big Ten is building an upper strata of the Buckeyes (No. 1 in the Sagarin ratings as of Sunday morning), Wolverines (No. 3) and Badgers (No. 15), Nebraska (No. 22) continues to keep knocking on the door. In their first road test, the Cornhuskers played sloppy at times but mostly controlled a 24-13 win at Northwestern Saturday night. The stakes for the Big Red’s visit to Madison on Oct. 29 keep going up by the week.
And the thing that didn’t
- Does Rutgers making Iowa sweat say more about the Knights or the Hawkeyes? Indiana’s five-point home setback to unbeaten Wake Forest isn’t the end of the world, but it won’t help the league with the computers, either. Nor will the relative declines of LSU, Notre Dame and Oregon — and more on that in a minute.
One man’s rolling Heisman Ballot (Big Ten edition)
- Jabril Peppers, OLB/S/PR, Michigan. Tripped up by the turf monster at the 5-yard line, or else would’ve run a punt back for a score in consecutive weeks.
- J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State. At his current pace of 4.3 touchdowns accounted for per game, what’s the ceiling? Fifty? Fifty-five?
- Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska. Threw for 246 and ran for 132 more in Evanston, and building quiet efficiency: 12 total touchdowns and just one interception through four contests.
Ya know, maybe that wasn’t such an epic win after all, Part I
Sept. 17: Michigan State 36, Notre Dame 28
Sept. 24: Duke 38, Notre Dame 35
Why ‘Joey Julius And Tai’yon Devers Do The Oklahoma Drill’ is a reality series that absolutely needs to happen
— The Fanatics View (@thefanaticsview) September 24, 2016
Joey Julius is back again https://t.co/PUEzA4Kt0j
— Jack Miller (@_JackAttack17) September 24, 2016
Thanks for coming, hope we didn’t hurt your boys too bad
Wisconsin 30, Michigan State 6
The Spartans were held without a touchdown at home for just the second time in the last 16 years. (The other: Notre Dame, September 2012.)
Not even a pro like Dave Revsine can spin this bad boy
Michigan 49, Penn State 10
Yes, the PSU linebacking corps has been torn to shreds by injuries, but that’s the most lopsided Wolverines win in the history of the series. The Lions have surrendered 40 points or more three times in their last 17 appearances dating back to September 2015. From 2005-2014, Penn State got hit for 40 points or more five times in total.
Proof Urban Meyer even kicks the bye week’s backside
— Shelley Meyer (@spinnershells) September 24, 2016
Ya know, maybe that wasn’t such an epic win after all, Part II
Sept. 17: Nebraska 35, Oregon 32
Sept. 24: Colorado 41, Oregon 38
Under-the-radar unit of the week
Purdue’s offensive line. The Boilermakers scored 21 unanswered in a 24-14 win over Nevada, giving the Old Gold & Black its first winning record after three games since the start of the 2012 campaign. As Week 5 looms, the Boilers lead the Big Ten in third-down conversion percentage (59.2), fewest sacks allowed (one through three games, or 0.3 per contest) and fewest penalty yards per game (30.3). The rough edges are still rough, and ball security is a worry, but the bottom rungs of the West division — Illinois and Northwestern — still appear to be well within Purdue’s grasp.
On-the-radar unit of the week
Michigan’s defense. Penn State came in to Michigan Stadium leading the Big Ten in passing yards per game (276.0). They left having thrown for just 121 yards, having converted just two of 12 third-down opportunities, and having been sacked six times.
Welcome to the Hot Seat, pal
James Franklin, Penn State
Trailing 28-0 early in the third quarter, on the road, at the Michigan 2, on fourth down, Franklin burned a timeout and … kicked a field goal.
The Lions had a chance to make a statement in Ann Arbor. They did, and the names for Franklin’s potential replacements started flying hard and fast in the hours since the Wolverines atomized Penn State. Franklin is now 0-7 with the Lions against the East division’s Big Three — Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Notable alums such as LaVar Arrington went to Twitter to call for peace and patience, but in some corners of Nittany Nation, that patience is fast wearing thin.
Fake Bo Pelini tweet of the week (North Dakota State edition)
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) September 17, 2016
@FauxPelini A Bison calf will be named in your honor next spring!
— Buffalo Museum (@BuffaloMuseumND) September 18, 2016
@BuffaloMuseumND could we name it Carl? please
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) September 18, 2016
@FauxPelini Carl it will be! Get in touch with you next spring with a pic of Carl.:)
— Buffalo Museum (@BuffaloMuseumND) September 19, 2016
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) September 19, 2016
— Kwix (@YoKwix) September 19, 2016
— Buffalo Museum (@BuffaloMuseumND) September 19, 2016
Alumni note of the week
With the Denver Broncos’ 34-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, Trevor Siemian now has the second-most wins ever by an NFL quarterback from Northwestern in the modern era (post-1945) — with two. And, hey, he’s got only 55 more to go to catch No. 1 on the list, the great Otto Graham, who was at the helm for 57 Cleveland Browns victories after the old AAFC franchise merged into the NFL before the 1950 season.
3 games coming up we’d seriously pay to watch
- Wisconsin at Michigan (3:30 ET, TV TBD). The two best defenses in the league — yes, even better than the crew in Columbus — take turns trying to knock the snot out of each other at Michigan Stadium. Nose-bleeds mandatory. Nose-picking, optional.
- Minnesota at Penn State (3:30 ET, TV TBD). Goldy hasn’t scored a point in State College since 2005. And all of sudden (see above), this one has the feeling of a must-win for Lions coach James Franklin.
- Michigan State at Indiana (8 ET, BTN). Sure, the Battle for the Old Brass Spittoon has been pretty one-sided since 2001, with 11 of the last 13 going Sparty’s way. But they usually aren’t boring — the two schools have combined to score an average of 69.3 points over the past eight meetings.
The takeaway number
Despite featuring arguably the most gifted runner in the league in Saquon Barkley, Penn State comes out of the first month of the season ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing yards — and last in rush yards per carry (3.0). No matter where you stand on the Franklin discussion, that’s not just an ugly total to justify in State College. It’s ugly to justify anywhere.