College football insider: The Big Ten blues

  • Updated: September 20, 2012 - 10:47 PM

The conference has struggled mightily in the first three weeks, from top to bottom. Unless things change drastically, bowl season might be even uglier.

Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell is hit by Notre Dame's T.J. Jones.

Photo: Al Goldis, Associated Press

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Cancel the Rose Bowl.

Too drastic? Too expensive? Probably so, and ESPN would throw a fit. But allow me to suggest a suitable Plan B for Big Ten fans on New Year's afternoon: Go for a walk. Have an early supper. Read a book. Do anything you can to avoid the proceedings in Pasadena, because there figures to be carnage.

The Big Ten still intends to send a representative to the Rose Bowl, but do you really want to watch how said "champion" fares against the likes of Oregon, or Stanford, or USC? If Jan. 1 looks anything like the first three weeks of September, it's just going to pile more humiliation on top of what the Midwest schools have endured already.

It's Sept. 21, and already every Big Ten contender has been eliminated from the national championship race. That's faster than the Twins or Timberwolves ever even managed. And it's not just that the so-called elite are losing but that they are being exposed as noncompetitive.

First, Michigan was treated like the junior varsity by Alabama. A week later, Wisconsin was 90 seconds from being shut out by Oregon State, while Nebraska allowed the second-most yards in school history in a loss -- at the Rose Bowl -- to UCLA.

And last Saturday, Michigan State looked slower and far less athletic than Notre Dame, failing to even score a touchdown at home, while the Badgers were saved the embarrassment of a home loss to Utah State only because the Aggies' kicker missed a 37-yard field goal on the game's final drive.

"Football can define you at times, and that's what this game will do," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio told reporters after losing to the Irish. "We have to pick up the pieces."

Wisconsin's Bret Bielema was more defensive about the situation as he tries to locate his team's once-unstoppable running game.

"One game doesn't define a season," Bielema said after the Badgers' loss in Corvalis.

Even Ohio State has yet to record a particularly impressive victory; the 3-0 Buckeyes, whose probation will prevent them from playing in a bowl game, have given up 392 yards per game and appeared overmatched against Cal in the second half last week.

This week is the first time since 2001 the league hasn't had a team in AP top 15. In all, the Big Ten is 26-10 in nonconference play, and its members are 4-8 against other BCS conference schools. MAC schools Ohio (against Penn State) and Ball State (against Indiana) have walked away with victories. Its only unbeaten teams are ineligible Ohio State, Northwestern and Minnesota. No offense to the Wildcats and Gophers, but I'm not projecting them to go 12-0 this year.

Right next door, the Big 12 is having no such problems. The league is a combined 22-2 in nonconference play.

The Big Ten is used to bad losses and bad publicity; the conference is, after all, 1-8 in its past nine Rose Bowl trips.

Still, things must be bad when even Jim Delany, commissioner since 1989, can't find a positive in his league's ugly start.

"If there was a way to spin it, I would try to spin it," he admitted to a USA Today columnist last weekend. "... But I'm also realistic in the sense that when you don't perform and you're on a big stage, you're going to get criticized."

That part, the Big Ten is getting good at.

BIG TEN POWER POLL 1. Michigan State (2-0; vs. Notre Dame) Living up to expectations: Defense is ranked eighth nationally. 2. Ohio State (2-0; vs. Cal) 87 points in two games, but Meyer complains of missed chances. 3. Wisconsin (1-1; vs. Utah State) Ball's Heisman run over already? Just 61 yards at Oregon State. 4. Nebraska (1-1; vs. Arkansas State) Offense a nice surprise, but defense a 456-yard-per-game disaster. 5. Michigan (1-1; vs. UMass) Hurting themselves: 144 yards worth of penalties already. 6. Northwestern (2-0; vs. Boston College) Unbeaten despite allowing league-worst 914 yards in two games. 7. Purdue (1-1; vs. Eastern Michigan) Six TD passes lead Big Ten, but so do seven turnovers. 8. Gophers (2-0; vs. Western Michigan) Gray is most efficient QB in conference, but threw just eight times vs. New Hampshire. 9. Illinois (1-1; vs. Charleston Southern) Offense suffered breakdown without Scheelhaase at quarterback. 10. Iowa (1-1; vs. Northern Iowa) Have yet to score a touchdown in six trips into red zone. 11. Penn State (0-2; vs. Navy) O'Brien stands by kicker who missed four FGs and a PAT at Virginia. 12. Indiana (2-0; vs. Ball State) Despite problems, eighth 2-0 start in last nine years.
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