Everybody likes to cheer for the underdog, but hardly anyone bets on the underdog to win. We tend to put our money on the favorite most of the time. In fact, we bet on the favorite far more frequently than we should. To understand why, you have to understand some of the basic functions and malfunctions of human decision-making.Filling out a winning March Madness bracket is difficult, but the process itself is simple. All you have to do is pick a winner for each game in your bracket. Most of the time, sports betting is more complicated than that. It’s easy enough to pick the favorite to win, but what if we were to say the favorite has to win by at least eight points? And what if that eight-point spread were carefully crafted to make the game a toss-up — who would you pick then? This is the type of decision sports bettors have to make all the time.In 2004, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt identified the fact that point spreads aren’t set like typical market prices, by equating relative levels of supply and demand. Instead, bookmakers set the margin to make the chance of the favorite covering the spread to be roughly 50 percent. Levitt speculated that bookmakers substantially improve their profits by biasing the spread very slightly against the favorite. This approach is profitable for bookmakers in part because, despite facing virtually even odds, people are much more likely to bet on the favorite than the underdog.The question that Levitt’s research left unaddressed is why people show such a strong bias towards favorites. As digital editor of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, I come across many studies, and I found a compelling answer to this question in the research of Joseph Simmons, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Leif Nelson, associate professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Simmons and Nelson say that people’s confidence in their own intuitions — regardless of whether that confidence is justified — guides their decision-making.“When people decide how to bet on a game, first they identify who is going to win,” Nelson said. That decision is often fast and easy, particularly when teams are not evenly matched. “The faster and easier it is, the less concerned they are with correcting that intuition when answering the more difficult question of whether the favorite is going to beat the point spread.”For all but the most experienced bettor, determining whether the favorite will beat the spread is incredibly challenging. Keeping in mind that the spread is carefully calibrated to make the choice a virtual coin flip, people simply don’t have much to go on besides their intuition. And because their intuition strongly suggests that the favorite will win, in the absence of information to the contrary it also tells them that the favorite will beat the spread. In a game between two fairly evenly matched teams, people’s feelings of confidence in the favorite to win are diminished, and they’re much less likely to pick the favorite to cover the spread.Simmons and Nelson analyzed betting data on 1,008 regular season NFL games on Sportsbook.com from 2009 to 2012. They found the average share of money bet on the favorite was 65 percent. This confirmed their initial study in which they tracked data from thousands of predictions of 850 professional and college football games on Yahoo.com for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. There Simmons and Nelson found, just as Levitt did, that even though favorites were about 50 percent likely to beat the spread (413 favorites beat the spread, 415 did not, and 22 were ties), people bet on the favorite more than two-thirds of the time. In fact, the more people believed a certain team would win, the more likely they were to also choose that team to beat the spread. Put another way, the confidence bettors felt in picking the winner translated into an unrelated belief that the winner would beat the spread.Simmons and Nelson also ran a series of studies in a controlled laboratory setting. They made sure that people knew exactly what it meant to bet the spread. In addition to asking people who they thought would win the game and how confident they were in their choice, the researchers asked them to estimate the margin of victory. Remarkably, people continued to overwhelmingly bet that the favorite would cover the same spread they had just personally estimated. And, once again, the more confident people felt that a team would win, the more likely they were to bet that the team would beat the spread.Astute gamblers may have noticed that although the bias towards favorites is a persistent one, it doesn’t appear to cost people very much. If the point spread is calibrated to give favorites a 50 percent chance of beating it, then even if people bet on the favorite every time, they should win half their bets, just as they would if they always bet on the underdog or chose at random. In another paper, however, Simmons and Nelson, along with Jeff Galak of Carnegie Mellon University and Shane Frederick of Yale University, found that favoritism towards favorites persists even when the playing field is tilted in favor of the underdog. People continued to show a bias toward picking favorites to cover the spread even when points were added to the spread dropping the favorites’ odds below 50 percent. Even explicitly telling people that the spread was artificially inflated didn’t stop them from making the costly error.Luckily, as you scramble to fill out your March Madness bracket, you don’t have to pick against spreads. You just have to pick who will win each game, something your intuition is pretty good at doing. So, in this case, go right ahead: Follow your gut and pick the favorites.
But it’s not only that the Seahawks and Patriots are strong teams: They’re just about evenly matched. The Vegas line opened as a pick ’em, and most sports books have the Patriots as mere one-point favorites. Elo, which loves the Seahawks, differs slightly here: It has Seattle as 2.5-point favorites. But that’s partly because the system, in its simplicity, punished the Patriots for their meaningless Week 17 loss against Buffalo. Without that game, the Patriots’ Elo rating would be 1756, which would make Seattle only one-point favorites and which would vault this matchup ahead of Super Bowl XIII into the top slot of all time.We can place past Super Bowls into four quadrants, as we have in the chart below. The horizontal axis represents the average Elo rating of the two participants; the vertical axis represents the Elo-rating difference between the teams. (The years in the chart correspond to the year of the NFL regular season. For example, Super Bowl XX, played Jan. 26, 1986, is designated as 1985 because that’s the year most of us would associate with the 1985 Chicago Bears.)The top-left quadrant represents games in which the teams were fairly evenly matched but not particularly great — like the Super Bowl we had two seasons ago between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. The bottom-right quadrant is for Super Bowls when the average Elo rating was high but because of one spectacular team, like when the undefeated 2007 Patriots played (and lost to) the New York Giants.It’s the games in the top-right quadrant that had both things going for them, as this one does: great teams but also a reasonably even matchup.But here’s the catch: Those great-seeming matchups didn’t translate into great Super Bowls.Below, we’ve ranked the 48 prior Super Bowls based on a version of the Excitement Index, which measures the quality of a game based on how much win probability changes over the course of it. This season’s NFC Championship would, obviously, qualify as an extraordinarily exciting game — the Seahawks’ win probability shifted from near zero to very likely late in the fourth quarter, and then back to basically 50-50 after the Packers kicked a field goal to send the game to overtime, and then up to 100 percent once the Seahawks won in OT. By contrast, the AFC Championship — the Patriots were favored, pulled ahead early and never looked back — would have a low Excitement Index.The Excitement Index is not perfect — compared with how we would rank the games intuitively, it seems to give too little credit to unlikely fourth-quarter comebacks, for instance. But it does a reasonable job of ranking the Super Bowls. The top Super Bowl of all time, according to the Excitement Index, was Super Bowl XXIII, played after the 1988 regular season between the 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals. Most of the other obvious candidates — like Wide Right and the Giants’ upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII — also rank highly.The win probability data we’re using is from Pro-Football-Reference.com, and accounts for the point spread, so a game that turns out to be lopsided between teams that looked evenly matched beforehand (like last year’s Super Bowl or Super Bowl XVIII) will get a bit of credit. A game in which a heavy favorite romps to victory (like Super Bowl XXIX, when the 49ers, as 19-point (!) favorites against the San Diego Chargers, were ahead 14-0 after four minutes of play) will get almost none.But the hope is for a Super Bowl that stays tight from wire to wire with plenty of drama in between. And if you’re looking at those matchups that looked best on paper going in — those from the top-right quadrant of the chart — you won’t find many that turned into great games.There’s one very encouraging precedent. The aforementioned Super Bowl XIII, played after the 1978 regular season, had a lot of parallels to this one. The Cowboys, like this year’s Seahawks, were a 12-4 team coming off a Super Bowl championship. The Steelers, like this year’s Patriots, were an aging dynasty hoping for one more ring. (As it turns out, they’d win two more.) The Steelers won 35-31, and the outcome might have different if not for a dropped touchdown catch by Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith. Super Bowl XIII ranks very well in the Excitement Index and even higher on subjective lists of the best Super Bowls, one of which has it as the best game ever.But pretty much every other game in the top-right quadrant stunk:There’s last year’s Seahawks-Denver Broncos debacle.There’s Super Bowl XIX (played after the 1984 regular season). What was supposed to be a spectacular matchup between Joe Montana and Dan Marino turned into a rout as the 49ers clobbered the Miami Dolphins 38-16.There’s Super Bowl XII (1977), which never really became competitive; the Cowboys’ win probability was up to 95 percent by the middle of the second quarter and they coasted to a 27-10 win over the Broncos.There’s Super Bowl VIII (1973), one of several poor Super Bowls involving the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings didn’t score until the fourth quarter and lost to the Dolphins 24-7.There’s another Vikings stinker from a few years later, Super Bowl XI, when they lost to the Oakland Raiders 32-14.There’s Super Bowl XXVI (1991), when the Bills were down 24-0 to the Washington Redskins before scoring a few “junk time” touchdowns and losing 37-24.There’s Super Bowl XXXIII (1998), won by John Elway’s Broncos over the Atlanta Falcons, which proved anti-climactic after the Falcons upset the 15-1 Vikings in the NFC Championship.We wouldn’t say to expect a bad Super Bowl on Sunday. This is a noisy data set. It’s probably a fluke that the games that looked best on paper turned out to be among the worst on the field.But that’s the point: Any one game won’t tell you all that much, and as we’ve pointed out before, an NFL matchup that looks just about even beforehand is only slightly more likely than average to result in a great game. This could be a super Super Bowl — but it could just as easily turn out to be a dud, in which case Deflate-gate and Katy Perry will burn an SEO-optimized hole into our collective memories. So what if the pregame story lines have been asinine and absurd? On Sunday, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will be among the most talented teams to take the field in the Super Bowl.According to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Elo ratings, this year’s Seahawks are the fifth-best team to participate in a Super Bowl since the AFC-NFC merger. And the Patriots aren’t far behind. The average Elo rating of the teams this year is the second-best in a Super Bowl since that merger, trailing only Super Bowl XIII when the Dallas Cowboys played the Pittsburgh Steelers.Elo’s lofty ranking of the game might seem surprising given that the Seahawks and Patriots each went 12-4 in the regular season, excellent but hardly extraordinary records. Those records probably underestimates their strength, however. Both teams played relatively tough schedules, and both finished the season stronger than they started it — notwithstanding the Patriots’ throwaway loss in Week 17, when they rested their stars against the Buffalo Bills.Furthermore, both teams have been at the top of the league for some time. That matters when assessing the historical strength of an NFL team: 16 regular-season games just isn’t all that large a sample, so Elo ratings predict performance better because they carry over some of a team’s rating from one season to the next. The Seahawks and Patriots entered this season ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in Elo, respectively, based on their ratings at the end of 2013. It’s not as though either of these teams backed into the Super Bowl — as, for instance, the 2003 Carolina Panthers did when reaching the title game with a 11-5 record. (Those same Panthers went 1-15 in 2001, 7-9 in 2002 and 7-9 in 2004.)
FiveThirtyEight’s editor-in-chief, Nate Silver, discussed our NCAA men’s basketball tournament predictions Tuesday with “Good Morning America’s” Josh Elliott.If you missed it, here’s the clip:
The NFL draft starts Thursday night, and during the coverage you’ll probably hear about safe and risky picks. In some cases, the risk is specific to the player. Perhaps Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is a risk for his history of alleged off-the-field misconduct, while his counterpart at Oregon, Marcus Mariota, comes with worries that his stock was inflated by the Ducks’ spread offense. But some of the risk is also considered intrinsic to certain positions, while other positions carry a reputation for being particularly low-risk.The trouble, though, is that there’s no way to prove which positions consistently offer good returns on draft investment — at least not with football data in its current state. And in large part, that’s because we can’t really evaluate on player performance as accurately for the so-called non-skill positions.For instance, taking a quarterback (like Winston and Mariota) might seem like a hazardous bet to make early in the draft. But it’s possible that QBs only appear risky relative to other positions because we can more readily measure a quarterback’s performance statistically. In other words, when Ryan Leaf posts a 39.0 quarterback rating as a rookie, he’s easy to identify as a bust, but his linebacking equivalent might be harder to recognize.Here’s another example. You could use Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) to estimate the odds that a player’s performance1We’re looking at the first five seasons of a player’s career. will live up to the expectations of where he was drafted, and break those numbers down by position:You’d find that the average offensive lineman2Weighted by the expected value of the pick, so that successful high picks are rewarded more — and highly-touted disappointments are more heavily penalized. meets or exceeds the median AV expected of his draft slot about 59 percent of the time — the NFL-wide average across all positions is, by definition, 50 percent — while the average receiver3Lumping together wide receivers and tight ends. provides positive value for his pick slot only 41 percent of the time. And quarterbacks wouldn’t be far behind receivers on the “risky” list, beating expectations at a rate of only 43 percent.But there’s another clear pattern in the AV data: The positions that seem like the riskiest picks are also the ones where we have the most data to differentiate between good and bad performances. Coincidence? Probably not.An offensive lineman’s AV is based solely on his team’s offensive performance, his own playing time and any accolades he receives (like Pro Bowl or All-Pro nods). So, short of being outright benched, there’s very little he could do to distinguish himself negatively under the structure of the study above (or those like it). A skill-position player struggling to meet expectations, on the other hand, can be identified via his inferior yardage, touchdowns, turnovers and the like. (To the extent that those metrics are even good descriptors of player performance.)It’s similar to the phenomenon that causes linemen to boast a far higher Pro Bowl “retention rate” than other offensive positions, particularly quarterbacks. The less information voters have to go on, the more they rely on a player’s priors (and perhaps rightly so). And the same can go for the draft, where certain positions can feel safer simply because we don’t have glaring, easily-quantifiable evidence to the contrary.The answer, of course, is more data. When Chase Stuart conducted a more granular (if anecdotal) look at offensive tackles using ProFootballFocus grades, for instance, he found what seems to be a healthy bust rate even for a position often tagged as one of the most reliable. Then again, PFF grades aren’t universally accepted as gospel, either; besides, they only go back to the 2007 season (as opposed to 1950 for AV).That’s why, for now at least, it may not be possible to truly say whether certain positions are more or less likely to live up to their draft-day expectations. It’s another unanswerable question to throw onto the pile of things about the NFL draft that we just don’t know.
Aaron Rodgers is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time,1By career quarterback passer rating, he is. so it’s hard to imagine that there could ever be too much Rodgers in a game plan. Yet this seemed to be the problem for Mike McCarthy and Green Bay through the first nine weeks of the season. On Sunday, though, the Packers flipped the script for a 31-12 victory against the Miami Dolphins, a win keyed by one of the best rushing performances in the Rodgers era.The Packers entered Week 10 last in the NFL in share of running plays on first down (39.6 percent) despite being second in the league in play success on those runs (48.5 percent).2A successful first-down play is defined as getting a first down or touchdown or gaining at least 40 percent of the yardage needed to convert a first down. But on Sunday, they ran on more than half of their first downs (51.85 percent) and gained 142 yards on their 14 carries, including 117 yards on nine carries by Aaron Jones.Even with their Week 10 performance, the Packers still stand out when we juxtapose how often they run on first down with how well they run: On Sunday, the Packers weren’t just taking advantage of a soft run defense to make this kind of structural change: Miami entered the game in the middle of the pack in play success allowed to opponents running on first down. Instead, a renewed focus on the run has been in the works in Green Bay for several weeks.Just giving the ball to Jones was a massive step in the right direction for Green Bay. He only recently became the Packers’ primary running back. After serving a suspension the first two games of the year for a substance abuse violation, Jones split snaps with Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams largely because of the Packers’ passing emphasis. McCarthy saw him as an incomplete running back because of his shortcomings as a blocker and as a receiving threat.“There’s more to playing the position than just running the football,” McCarthy said in early October. And that’s especially true if running the football is not remotely a point of emphasis for a team.But that’s changing now. And why shouldn’t it? Let’s compare the first 19 games of Aaron Jones’s career to the first 19 games of another back with a Hall of Fame quarterback who ended up changing his team’s scheme:Jones: 154 carries for 942 yards (6.12 yards per rush), 8 rushing TDsAlvin Kamara: 157 carries for 869 yards (5.54 yards per rush), 10 rushing TDsWhile NFL teams generally run too much — especially on first down — it’s a problem specifically when defenses are geared to stop the run. But that’s not the case for teams facing Green Bay. Like Kamara and the Saints last year, Jones has a quarterback whom defenses fear so much that they don’t dare put an extra defender in the box to stuff the running back.This season, the Packers have faced eight or more defenders in the box on first down just eight times in 272 snaps, a league-low rate of 2.94 percent (8.75 percent is average). Defenses are pretty much willing to concede the run — similar to how teams defend the Los Angeles Rams, who face stacked boxes almost as infrequently (3.8 percent). But the Rams, who are the only team better than the Packers in rushing success rate (51.1 percent), run the ball on first down 56.3 percent of the time, including 49.4 percent in the first half, when the score of the game is less likely to influence these play calls.Can the Packers, at 4-4-1, maintain this newfound offensive balance and ride their running ways to the postseason? Their first test will be Thursday at Seattle before they travel to Minnesota in Week 12 in a game that could determine an NFC wild-card spot. The promos and advertisements for that Sunday Night Football contest will spotlight Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers featuring less of him may be the key to getting that victory.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
Then-freshman forward Maddy Humphrey (left) pushes the ball upfield during a game against Iowa Oct. 19, 2014 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU lost 4-2.Credit: Lantern File PhotoThe Ohio State field hockey team hopes to keep its momentum when it faces off against another team that is undefeated in conference play, No. 8 Maryland, this week.Coming off a 2-1 double overtime victory last week against Penn State, the Buckeyes are now 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2011 and 6-3 overall. Maryland (8-3, 3-0) — which is coming off a 5-1 victory against Michigan State on Sunday — currently sits in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten alongside OSU and Indiana. The Terrapins have combined to score 38 goals so far this season, 20 of which have come off penalty corners.Coach Anne Wilkinson said her team has put forth a lot of effort in practice this week and that it will show on the turf Friday.“At the end of the day it’s about who steps up and shows up on the field,” Wilkinson said. “I think with the hard work that our team put in this week, we’ll be prepared and ready to compete.”As proof of their effort, the Buckeyes continue to rack up Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Sophomore goalie Liz Tamburro, senior forward Peanut Johnson and, most recently, sophomore back Caroline Rath have all taken home the title so far this season. Johnson, who has 15 points on six goals along with three assists, said the team’s dedication and spirit give them an upper hand in succeeding on the field.“Everyone’s just on their A-Game,” Johnson said. “The fact that freshmen, sophomores, juniors are all playing with so much heart is just really what’s setting this season apart from all the others.”Coming into Friday’s game winning five of its last six, OSU is averaging 2.50 goals per game with 23 goals total. Alongside the strong offense, the Buckeyes’ defense leads the conference with 65 total saves. Tamburro — who tallied a season-high 11 saves versus Penn State — said the defense has found its flow on the field and is finally meshing together. “The defense has been working amazing together, we’ve made so much progress since the beginning of the season,” Tamburro said. “We’re all open with each other, the communication and trust has definitely come together.”The Buckeyes are scheduled to face off against the Terrapins on Friday at Buckeye Varsity Field at 3:30 p.m.Coach’s cornerWilkinson and Maryland coach Missy Meharg used to be teammates at the University of Delaware on both the field hockey and lacrosse teams. Looking forwardFollowing their contest against Maryland, the Buckeyes will continue Big Ten play against Rutgers at home. The game is set for Oct. 9, with faceoff being scheduled for 3:30 p.m at Buckeye Varsity Field.
Ohio State redshirt junior guard Kam Williams attempts a shot in the first half against Maryland at the Schottenstein Center on Jan. 31. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Sports DirectorWithout sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle available, the Ohio State men’s basketball team knew it had its hand full at No. 21 Maryland, who beat the Buckeyes just two weeks earlier.OSU dug its way back from several double-digit deficits, but couldn’t close the gap, as the Buckeyes (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) fell 86-77 to the Maryland Terrapins (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten) in College Park, Maryland, on Saturday.Senior forward Marc Loving led all scorers with 24 points for the Scarlet and Gray, as junior forward Jae’Sean Tate added 20. Freshman guard Anthony Cowan led Maryland with 19 points as freshman guard Kevin Huerter had 18.In the final four minutes, both teams caught fire from beyond the arc. Down 77-66 with 3:41 remaining, Loving hit back-to-back 3s to cut the Maryland lead to five. Terrapin freshman guard Kevin Huerter answered with a 3 of his own, but redshirt junior guard Kam Williams answered for the Buckeyes to make it 80-75.On the next possession, the Buckeyes needed a stop, but Cowan had other plans. He effectively put the game away for Maryland with a 3 with only 41 seconds remaining to increase the lead back to eight.Sophomore guard C.J. Jackson had 13 points in his third start of the season, and redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his 10th double-double.The Terrapins came out firing from the beginning, knocking down four of their first six shots and led 9-0 at the first media timeout. But the lack of OSU offense wasn’t from a stagnant offense, shots simply weren’t falling despite the Buckeyes grabbing five offensive rebounds in the first four minutes.OSU stopped the bleeding by scoring 11 points over the next four minutes, but a Maryland 8-0 run out of the second media timeout slashed a deeper deficit for the Buckeyes at 24-13.From there, Maryland continued to build to its lead. After back-to-back dunks by backup center Michal Cekovsky, the home team led 40-24, its largest lead of the game.OSU trailed 45-31 at the half behind 20 bench points and seven 3-pointers from the Terps.In the second half, Maryland’s quick-hitting offense continued to overwhelm the Buckeyes. Freshman center Micah Potter narrowly missed a shot that would have cut the Terrapin lead to six, as he watched his 3-point attempt rattle in then out. On the other end, Potter watched freshman guard Kevin Huerter drill a 3 right in front of him, extending the Terps lead to 12.After that, the Buckeyes began to make a comeback. Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams knocked down a jumper and senior forward Marc Loving made a 3 to slim the deficit to seven. A few possessions later, sophomore guard C.J. Jackson made his second 3, making it a six-point game with 13:05 left.OSU continued to fight throughout the half, even withstanding a couple double-digit deficits. In the end, the effort wasn’t enough, despite shooting 60 percent in the second half.Potter and Thompson each fouled out with four minutes to go. Loving and Tate scored 15 and 14 points in the second half, respectively.OSU outrebounded Maryland 32-30, but committed 14 turnovers and were outscored 33-0 in bench points.Up NextOSU plays a second consecutive conference matchup on the road Tuesday at Michigan State at 9 p.m.
After their win against Vermont, field hockey players Aisling Coyle and Aisling McKeon ran over to the sideline, practically finishing each other’s sentences. Coyle, a sophomore midfielder from Glasgow, Scotland, and McKeon, a junior midfielder from Galway, Ireland, are just two of the international students on the team this year. While growing up within a nine-hour drive from each other, they had similar experiences while starting their hockey careers. For example, both started playing for club teams when they were around 7 years old. “Club back home is a lot more intense,” Coyle said. “Girls play at a high level on club teams when they are in their teens.”Hockey is not as intense at the university level in Europe as it is in America, Coyle said. McKeon and Coyle took advantage of opportunities to play at Ohio State in order to continue playing at the level they were used to in European club play. Coyle talked to every big hockey school before deciding to come to OSU, she said. She noticed OSU had quite a few international players, and even Scottish players on some teams. “I knew I would have something in common with others,” she said. “There were people I would relate to.”McKeon’s decision to play for OSU was made a little differently. “I had family and friends that lived in the States and brought the idea to my parents,” she said. “Everything was predetermined and pre-organized.”Coyle and McKeon are enjoying their time in the states, but admit hockey is a little different in America. In America, “hockey is a lifestyle,” McKeon said. “In Europe it is your hobby.” One of the biggest adjustments they had to make was getting used to America’s on-the-go lifestyle. “I remember eating and having to take my meal to go one time, wondering what in the world was going on,” McKeon said. “Back home we have more time to sit and enjoy a meal, more time to relax and talk.”“Now we have gotten used to it and tell the others to hurry up,” Coyle added.The popularity of the sport is also different. In Europe, most kids participate in field hockey, Coyne said. The lack of a men’s national field hockey team illustrates the lack of interest in the sport in America, they said. America “is the only country to not have a men’s team,” Coyle said.After spending the last few years in America, both Coyle and McKeon said they could envision field hockey becoming a more popular sport in the States. “You have money, you can afford the best coaches,” McKeon said. Coyle and McKeon have both started each of the team’s eight games this season. Coyle ranks third on the team with 10 points.Both plan on returning home after graduation.
Big Ten football has been completely revamped in the past year. Nebraska joined the conference as its 12th team, the Leaders and Legends divisions were created and a new logo was released. Members of the Legends division had a lot to say during Tuesday’s spring football teleconference. New coach, new philosophy for Michigan With a new coach, a new scheme usually follows, and this is certainly the case for the Wolverines. There were two significant changes that coach Brady Hoke spoke of Tuesday afternoon. Hoke said he has had a smooth transition thus far because there are “so many great people at the university, players are eager to learn and dive into fundamentals.” “We’ve got to get better faster than everybody in the Big Ten,” Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. Dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson will be taking snaps from under center in the upcoming season. Hoke said Robinson was doing well moving back under center from the spread and that it helped that he had experience there from high school. Hoke added that he dealt with a similar situation while coaching at San Diego State. “He’s a guy that’s dangerous with ball, but tremendous thrower,” Hoke said. On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolverines will switch to a 4-3 scheme instead of the 3-4 it ran last season. Van Bergen said the biggest difference between Hoke and Rich Rodriguez is that Hoke “is more of a defensive-emphasis kind of coach.” He added that he felt Rodriguez had players out of position, and he likes the way Hoke has put an emphasis on both the offensive and defensive lines. As for the Ohio State-Michigan game, Hoke was pleased when he found out it would remain on the schedule and that it was the last game of the season. “It’s always played during the last Saturday of November, and that’s where it should be,” Hoke said. “There’s no bigger rivalry in sport than that game and having the game at end of the season.” Iowa excited for new Nebraska rivalry When news broke last summer that Nebraska would join the Big Ten, it meant more to Iowa than another formidable opponent within the conference. “I think most people are excited,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Everybody’s enthused about what Nebraska brings to the Big Ten.” It created a new rivalry game that will be up there with OSU and Michigan. Ferentz said people have been asking for a game against Nebraska for years. Linebacker Tyler Nielsen said he liked the nickname “Farmageddon” for the Iowa-Nebraska match up. Iowa’s toughest hurdles to overcome this season are replacing Ricky Stanzi at quarterback, and finding depth at the battered running back position. Quarterback James Vandenberg’s preparation impressed Ferentz, but Ferentz added that there is a short list of running backs arising in spring ball. Look for Marcus Coker to be the featured back so long as he can stay healthy. Nebraska joins Big Ten; Bo Pelini returns to alma mater The toughest challenge for any team in the Big Ten is given to Nebraska. While all other members of the conference may have to prepare for one new opponent, coach Pelini and his staff have to prepare for eight. But Pelini does not plan on overhauling his game plan. He said he was not overly concerned with changing schemes toward which it plays. “It’s more about playing good football,” he said. “It really comes down to executing your game plans to be a good football team. … I think it’s a way to measure yourself.” On Oct. 8, Pelini hosts his alma mater OSU in Lincoln. Pelini played free safety for the Buckeyes from 1987 to 1990. “Having played there and understanding the tradition and what that all entails, it’s going to be a heck of a challenge,” he said. Nebraska linebacker Sean Fisher also spoke during the teleconference, and said he was excited to move to the Big Ten. “I think it’s an extremely fortunate thing for us,” he said. “Not many people get to do this, and it gives you an opportunity to see some really cool places.” Fisher and his younger brother, Cole, a freshman at Iowa, will face off in Lincoln on Nov. 25. “Fortunately, he plays defense,” Fisher said, “so I won’t get to tackle him.” Michigan State humble After tallying a 7-1 record in the Big Ten last season, the Spartans had high expectations. Michigan State would have dominated the Legends Division, excluding Nebraska, winning it by three games against next-highest Iowa (4-4). Many favor Michigan State to win the Legends Division this season, but coach Mark Dantonio is not quite ready to accept that label. “We’re going to be in the hunt for things,” he said. “But to say we embrace the favorite, I don’t put a whole lot of stock in that.” In October alone, the Spartans face a stretch against OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. “If you want to be best,” Dantonio said, “you have to play best.” Although the schedule is extremely tough, he has been very impressed by his offensive and defensive lines this spring. “The future looks bright, as bright as it ever has here, on the offensive line,” Dantonio said. “The nucleus of who we are as a football team is back.” The leader of that nucleus is quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose comments showed his humility after many questioned the ability of Michigan State to succeed in consecutive seasons. “We can’t rest on success, but work even harder. Guys who had success last season aren’t acting like they had success last season,” Cousins said. Dantonio emphasized winning on the road, minimizing turnovers and staying poised as ways to repeat there successful 2010 season. Minnesota looks to bounce back New coach Jerry Kill has a slightly tougher task than Hoke in Michigan in order to bring the team back to the top of the conference. The Golden Gophers were 2-6, placing them second to last in the Big Ten in 2010. After beginning the season 1-9, Minnesota took home two solid wins, including a 27-24 victory against Iowa. “We’re taking infant steps,” Kill said, “not baby steps.” Keeping players accountable and improving the talent pool were most important in revitalizing the program, Kill said. The big change is MarQueis Gray, a wide receiver for the Gophers last year, will be the starting quarterback. “He’s learned very well,” Kill said. “He’s a very quick learner, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice and he’s a tremendous athlete.” A bright spot for Minnesota: It does not have to face OSU for the next four seasons. “As good as Ohio State is,” Kill said, “I guess I’m pretty happy about that.” Dan Persa for Heisman Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said quarterback Persa was a Heisman candidate. It is no secret Northwestern’s success revolves around Persa. Some were uncertain of his availability this season after he tore his Achilles tendon late in a 21-17 win against Iowa last year. Persa is not participating in spring football, but Fitzgerald said, “He’ll be clear to go for this fall.” Although Fitzgerald did not seem all that convincing on the phone, Persa cleared all doubts quickly. “I plan to be, at the latest, ready at the end of May,” Persa said. The key to his fast recovery, Persa said, was having surgery just three hours after the injury. Persa said he is not afraid to take off and run the ball in order to make a big play, but Fitzgerald feels he is not doing a good job protecting his body. “Part of that’s on Dan,” he said. “He’s got to get down in time; he took some unnecessary hits.” Persa remains on the sidelines, and he said he has played a coachlike role during his rehab.
Berths for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament aren’t won and lost in November, but teams can certainly make a case for higher seeding come March with early season success. The No. 3-ranked Ohio State basketball team will have its first chance to impress the nation and take a significant step toward a top spot in March Madness Tuesday when it hosts the No. 7-ranked Florida Gators at the Schottenstein Center. The Buckeyes opened the 2011-12 campaign with a 73-42 win against Wright State Friday in a game senior guard William Buford said the Buckeyes could have executed better. “I think we could have done better on the offensive end executing our plays,” Buford said. “We were kind of sluggish in the first half.” The Buckeyes shot just 32 percent in the game, but sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, who led all scorers in the game with 19 points on 4-of-7 shooting, helped turn a tight contest into a rout. “We got tired of it being a back-and-forth game,” Sullinger said. “We decided to put our foot on their throat and stop the back-and-forthness.” There was no “back-and-forthness” in the Gators’ opening-night win. Florida (1-0) also opened its season Friday, defeating Jackson State, 99-59. The Gators were led by junior guard Kenny Boynton’s 19 points and shot 51-percent from the field in the win. Florida coach Billy Donovan’s squad returns two starters — Boynton and senior guard Erving Walker — from last year’s team, which dropped a 93-75 decision to the Buckeyes at Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Nov. 16, 2010. “I know they didn’t forget what happened last time when we went (to Florida) and won by 20 at their home court,” Sullinger said. “They’ll be looking for some revenge.” The Gators might find themselves hard-pressed to avenge last year’s loss thanks to the Buckeyes’ stout defense. OSU forced 16 first-half turnovers against Wright State and limited the Raiders to 13-of-41 shooting from the field. OSU coach Thad Matta said that, similar to last year’s matchup with the Gators, defense will be key for his team. “We’ve got to defend. We’ve got to do a great job taking care of the basketball,” Matta said. “They’re one of the best team’s I’ve seen thus far.” In just the second game of the season for both teams, not even the Buckeyes are fully aware of their identity. Matta said one advantage of playing the No. 8 team in the country early in the season is that he’ll have a better understanding of his squad. “I like it from the standpoint that, by the conclusion (Tuesday’s) game, we’ll have a better feeling of where we are, good or bad,” Matt said. “I’m aware that we’ve got a long way to go, but you play a game like this and hope that you come out and you’re a better basketball team because of it.” Tuesday’s match with the Gators, Southeastern Conference East division winners and owners of a 29-8 overall record last season, is no dress rehearsal, though. “Florida is going to be a different breed, I know that much,” Sullinger said. Buford agreed, saying the Buckeyes will need to improve before Tuesday’s battle with the Gators. “We need to play much better, or it’s not going to be pretty,” he said. “We beat them on their home floor (last year), so they’re going to come in and give us their best.” Tuesday’s game against Florida is set to tip off at 8 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.