Thursday, January 17, 2013

Illinois State Lands Playmaking Transfer Quaterback

Former Iowa State quarterback, Jared Barnett, will transfer
to Illinois State and play for the Redbirds next season.
(Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Former Iowa State quarterback, Jared Barnett, who led the Cyclones to a 37-31 OT upset victory over #2 Oklahoma State in 2011 will transfer to Illinois State and play for the Redbirds next season. Barnett will fill an obvious void in the Illinois State lineup as Matt Brown, the 2012 Offensive Player of the Year is lost to graduation. This addition of an experienced and talented quarterback may give the Redbirds that added push they need to repeat their stellar 2012 campaign. So what does this addition look like on paper? You decide; Barnett's career stats: He completed 162 passes from 328 attempts during his first two years for 1825 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. That is better experience than any other quarterback on the Illinois State roster.

The talent gap from playing in the Big Twelve to the Missouri Valley Conference bodes well for Barnett, considering--of course, that he displayed periodical flashes of brilliance against Big Twelve foes; most notably (as stated previously) his three touchdown, 376 yard day he had against Oklahoma State in 2011. Of course, this type of transfer quarterback has happened before. Rhett Bomar transferred from Oklahoma to Sam Houston State in 2007 where he would end up breaking the school record for career passing yards (5,564) in two seasons. Joe Flacco transferred from Pittsburgh to Delaware in 2004, although, his situation might not be compatible with Bomar's or Barnett's; Flacco completed one pass during his tenure at Pittsburgh. I'm sure there are multiple more stories of BCS QB's dropping down to FCS schools and finding success; but it is late and I've mentioned the three I can think up off the top of my head--that should be good enough to make my point.

Another topic to note is that teams do not necessarily automatically become wildly successfully and turn into powerhouse teams overnight after they land a transfer like this. I'll continue with my Bomar-Flacco comparison. Bomar, who started 10 games with Oklahoma before being released from the Sooners led Sam Houston State 4-4 start in 2007 before going down in the Nicholls State game. In 2008, his last season, the Bearcats ended 4-6. Flacco, as most of you know, had an awesome career at Delaware and led them to the FCS National Championship game in 2007.

The most influential aspect for these transfers must come from the level of comfort and the confidence they have in fitting into the offensive playbook that already exists, in other words; coaching. How will Jared Barnett fit into the offensive style at Illinois State? Well, I've extensively seen both Iowa State and Illinois State play the past few seasons and it is clear the difference some confidence makes. For Cyclone fans, watching Iowa State try to run the ball is like hitting your head against a metal pole; it is literally painful. All of Iowa State's quarterbacks had trouble running the Cyclone offensive sets; because all of the pressure was on their back--the Cyclones had no balance. Although the stats will show you that Iowa State averaged 4.2 yards per rush attempt; consistency was nonexistent. On the contrary, Illinois State's offense has the ability to play smash-mouth football with alot of success. Now, Matt Brown stole the show, but Darrelynn Dunn quietly ran for 1000 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012. With a steady, traditional, power-backfield, Jared Barnett could easily find the balance that allows him to blossom into a very, very effective quarterback.

Season finale catch-up

Similar to my blogging cohort, finals plus the trip to Frisco itself left me in blog-Purgatory and thus unable to give you the juicy, tender pontification you love so much. That said, here's a few thoughts on the season past, the repeat national champion, and what's in store for next year. First off, the Bison won with a very simple formula both in the playoffs and in their 39-13 walloping of Sam Houston State: ball control on offense, stinginess on defense. It's a point exemplified by the fact that the Bearkats started four of their first six drives, marking all of their possession of the ball in the first half, ahead of their own 25-yard line or better, yet the Bison got that same starting position just once in their first five series. Bell's mistakes in the game ultimately will go down as the catalyst for the second-straight championship-game loss for SHSU, but the Bison were so effective at choking them up anyway that it might not have mattered. Four interceptions certainly helped, though. The fact that the Bison stomped the Jackrabbits in the second round makes me wonder what the NCAA's attitude toward scheduling same-conference teams like that in the future. With the impending move to 24 teams coming up very soon, is regionalization going to be more of a factor in the playoffs? Good news for teams like Wofford whose small-school status lends itself to a poorly-traveling fan base (though credit to those fans that did show up for the NDSU-WC game), but it also means that playing conference mates, especially for teams west of the Mississippi, is a greater likelihood. I would cite the wild change in score from the first meeting of NDSU-SDSU to the second as evidence that a quality team can absolutely overcome the edge that a conference mate might have in a potential playoff scenario, but it had to have Coach Bohl just a little worried to play a team that knows NDSU so well in the team's first playoff game of the year. All that said, will that result encourage the committee to do more of the same in the future, or dissuade them? Or do they even care? Without much else to mash on at this point, here's my anticipatory rankings for the conference coming up next year. I'm not sure what we have planned for coverage during the off season, but doubtless one of us will make a post every so-often on something relevant, so keep your eyes peeled on here and by all means leave a comment somewhere if there's something you're curious about or want to see coverage on. Thanks for a great 2012! 1. North Dakota State 2. South Dakota State 3. Northern Iowa 4. Youngstown State 5. Indiana State 6. Southern Illinois 7. Illinois State 8. Western Illinois 9. South Dakota 10. Missouri State

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Out of Nowhere, Its 2013.

Well, Its been a while since I've posted last; alot has happened. Beginning mid-way through December, I ducked down to Mexico for a week for my honeymoon (dodged the big Iowa blizzard, however, our car in Des Moines didn't). Mexico was full of margaritas, good food, swimming pools, and bartering. The warm humid air was beyond therapeutic; my wife and I definitely made the right decision to do a winter honeymoon after getting married this past July. Once we got back to the freezing Midwest, We traveled up to South Dakota, back to Iowa, back to South Dakota, back to Iowa, up to Minnesota--in the span of two weeks. I was able to catch most of the National Championship game in Minnesota. So, after a month of spinning around and around, normalcy couldn't feel more pleasant; and although scenes of palm trees and swim-up bars still dance in my head--the cold, drizzly, foggy, snowy, cloudy Midwest winter feels even more like home.

North Dakota State's Kevin Vaadeland gets some
extra yardage in the National Championship.
(Photo: AP Photo, Tony Gutierrez)
With such a crazy holiday break, it seemed almost impossible to keep in touch with the 2012 football season that was slowly fading. However, I think I did alright; although my recruiting page is extremely behind. So, as most of you know--especially since these were the talking points on AnyGivenSaturday, Georgia Southern again couldn't win in Fargo, although this time they made it interesting; Sam Houston State won a Big Sky Conference Championship after beating Eastern Washington in the Semi's. Lastly, North Dakota State won another National Championship and Sam Houston State lost another. Bison fans across the country have the right to brag and gloat again for another offseason; and it doesn't look like the Bison will be stopped next year with almost the entire squad back again.

Looking back on 2012, the Missouri Valley, in general, experienced another wave of success. In 2011, North Dakota State and Northern Iowa were the only MVFC teams to make the playoff field after Illinois State and Indiana State blew their chances to become playoff eligible and South Dakota State and Southern Illinois had relatively down years after going 5-6 and 4-7 respectively. However, in 2012 we saw a surge of power from multiple teams in the out-of-conference schedule that setup for a very interesting conference season. Below is some recap to how the 2012 season played out, and how the teams moved up or down in relation to the 2011 season.

1.North Dakota State (7-1, 14-1)

North Dakota State once again proved that they were the team to beat in 2012. After pounding Robert Morris, handling FBS Colorado State, and throttling Prairie View A&M. The Bison looked determined to make a second run at the National Championship. The did it. However, they weren't flawless, Indiana State managed to beat the Bison 17-14 in Fargo on October 13th. Regardless, the Bison rebounded--much like they did in 2011--and won four straight, undefeated, in the postseason, which only means one thing: National Champion.

2.     South Dakota State (6-2, 9-3)

South Dakota State was the 2012 darkhorse and proved to be a powerful team in 2012. Most improved in this squad was the defense which was one of the worst in 2011; in 2012, the Jackrabbits were top five in many important defensive team statistics. The Jackrabbits also found a running game--Sophomore Zach Zenner ran for over 2000 yards. South Dakota State ended the regular season 8-3 with loses to Kansas, North Dakota State, and Northern Iowa; like Illinois State the Jackrabbits went 1-1 in the postseason beating Eastern Illinois and falling to North Dakota State. 

3.     Illinois State (5-3, 9-3)

Illinois State was team that pushed for a conference title. Like Youngstown State, the Redbirds fully powered past an FBS squad (Eastern Michigan) and cruised through non-conference play to be a perfect 5-0 before finally losing to Southern Illinois. Illinois State ended the regular season 8-3 and went 1-1 in the postseason, beating Appalachian State in a thriller and losing to Eastern Washington. Matt Brown was the heart and soul of this Redbird squad, and it will be interesting to see how Illinois State responds after losing its fearless leader. 

4.Indiana State (5-3, 7-4)

Indiana State improved on their 2011 record both overall and in the conference. However, scheduling a Big Ten opponent and a non-counter D-II team hurt the Sycamores in the long-run as they were not playoff eligible. Coach Trent Miles bolted for another chance to bring a struggling program to success as he accepted a job at Sun-Belt bound Georgia State. The Sycamores will return standout RB Shakir Bell and freshman QB Mike Perish proved to be an effective replacement to 2011 gunner Ronnie Fouch. Next season the Sycamores will face two in-state Big-Ten schools, Purdue and Indiana. They must not schedule a non-counter, or else making the playoffs in 2013 will be near impossible.

5.   Southern Illinois (5-3, 6-5)

Southern Illinois really turned it around in 2012. After a shaky 2-3 start, the Salukis went 4-2 over the last six weeks as they improved on their 2011 campaign with the help of a stingy defense that found its identity mid-way through the season. Their only two losses on the back-end of the season came against North Dakota State and South Dakota State. If the Salukis find some offensive rhythm in 2013, we could see Southern Illinois push for a conference title and a post-season berth. 

6.   Youngstown State (4-4, 7-4) 

Youngstown State started off extremely hot, dismantling Pittsburgh and starting off 4-0 after beating Valpo, Albany, and Northern Iowa. Youngstown State climbed as high as #3 in many FCS polls, however the Penguins would lose four straight before winning three straight to end the season at 7-4. Youngstown State once again ended the season 4-4 in the conference and could not find that rhythm against conference squads. Defensively, Youngstown State will need to improve in 2013 if they are going to climb in the MVFC. 

7.Northern Iowa (4-4, 5-6)

Northern Iowa was easily the most disappointing team in terms of talent and expected production. However, the extremely tough 2012 schedule proved to be the downfall for this Northern Iowa team. With non-conference games again Wisconsin, Iowa, and non-counter Central State; Northern Iowa had an uphill battle the entire season. Northern Iowa needed to go 6-2, or better, in conference play in order to be playoff eligible. Defensively, this was the worst UNI team in years and with a young QB, albeit Freshman Player of the Year, the Panthers just didn't have the firepower to make a strong push for the conference title. Expect the Panthers to be back in 2013.

8.    Missouri State (3-5, 3-8)

Progress is progress, even if its only one win. Last season Missouri State ended the season 2-9 and was  second to last in the conference. This season, the Bears played a little better. Their defense was definitely improved and they played with most teams all year. However, they couldn't finish and lost a few close games that could have had a dramatic impact on the season. Missouri transfer QB Ashton Glaser turned out to be a bust, and the Bears turned to Kierra Harris to lead the Bears. Harris made some big plays, but he also made huge mistakes which cost Missouri State in the long run. 2013 could go either way for the Bears, if their defense improves and the offense learns how to control the ball and move it consistently, Missouri State might look like a team on the rise. 

9.    Western Illinois (1-7, 3-8)

Western Illinois struggled much the same in 2012 as they did in 2011. Two of their three wins came from non-scholarship Drake and D-II Indianapolis. The Leathernecks, and their new head coach, Bob Nielson, have alot of work to do. A defense, an offense, and some confidence are all required if the Leathernecks want to get out of this slump. In 2012, Western tried out three different quarterbacks with mixed results. However, this program isn't lost, remember it was only two years ago when Western was in the post-season.

10.   South Dakota (0-8, 1-10)

It was a very long season for Coyote fans. Can't really give the red arrow, since this is their first season in the conference. However, in terms of their overall record, the Coyotes fell considerably in 2012. The MVFC definitely gave South Dakota a rude awakening in terms of power-FCS football. On the other hand, South Dakota's football program is traditionally not terrible and this season was very much an anomaly. The Coyotes were very young in 2012, and they lost a few key contributors from 2011. I have no doubt that in the next few years South Dakota will claw their way out of the bottom.