By Jim Weber
The end of the nonconference schedule couldn’t have come soon enough for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
Already ridiculed throughout the first three weeks of the 2012 season, the Big Ten hit rock bottom on Saturday. The worst of it was Iowa choking away a game to Central Michigan, Michigan blundering its way to a loss at Notre Dame and Illinois getting blown out at home by Louisiana Tech. It didn’t help that Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State struggled with the likes of UAB, UTEP and Eastern Michigan, respectively.
Now that the dust has settled, the wreckage looks like this: three national TV embarrassments and not a single win against another BCS conference school with a winning record. At this point, you could easily make the case that there are six Southeastern Conference teams better than anyone in the Big Ten.
This is a particularly bad year for the conference, but the scary part is that the Big Ten hasn’t been a really good conference for a decade, going back to Ohio State’s 2002 national championship season.
Heck, no Big Ten team other than the Buckeyes has ever even appeared in a BCS title game. And the two BCS title game trips Ohio State made since 2002 – 2007 and ’08 – resulted in beat downs from the SEC. Since ‘02, the Big Ten is also a horrendous 1-7 in the Rose Bowl.
The knock on the Big Ten has been that it’s too slow to play with the Pac-12 and too slow and too weak in the trenches to bang with the big boys of the SEC. Now the conference is having trouble with the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA.
Even if the Big Ten has a bounce-back year next fall, what does that even mean at this point?
SAME OLD CLEMSON: The Florida State game was a perfect microcosm of a Clemson football program notorious for disappointing its fans on an annual basis. Just when you thought the Tigers were about to turn the corner and put themselves in the national title hunt, they completely disappeared after taking a 31-21 lead midway through the third quarter. Florida State scored 28 straight points in less than 10 minutes while Clemson couldn’t even pick up a first down. No wonder ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit recently called Clemson the hardest college football team to be a fan of.
THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND: Is there anything 72-year-old Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder can’t do with a football team? He changed the Wildcats from a laughingstock to a national title contender in his first stint in Manhattan, and Snyder’s work in his second go-round at K-State has been just as remarkable. The program was in shambles after his replacement, Ron Prince, was let go in 2008. Snyder returned to win 10 games last year and now has put K-State back in the national title discussion by avenging last year’s blowout by Oklahoma with a 24-19 win in Norman. Kansas State already has named its stadium after Snyder; now it might be time to build a shrine for him.
STILL SEARCHING FOR “O”: LSU fans prayed all offseason that QB Zach Mettenberger would be the answer to the Tigers’ one-dimensional offense in 2011. That certainly wasn’t the case in the SEC opener against Auburn. LSU mustered only 169 yards passing and 10 offensive points against an Auburn defense that gave up 28 points just a week ago to Louisiana-Monroe. Not that it was all Mettenberger’s fault. The LSU offensive line played poorly, and drops plagued the wide receivers. If LSU plays like that when No. 1 Alabama rolls into town on Nov. 3, it will end a lot like January’s BCS title game vs. the Tide.
LEAVE IT TO BEAVERS: Give Oregon State head coach Mike Riley a lot of credit. After two straight losing seasons, many people thought he was a dead man walking in Corvallis this fall. But a defense that was abysmal in 2011 has looked very impressive in wins over Wisconsin and UCLA, and the difference between QB Sean Mannion has been night and day from last fall. Without USC on the schedule and with Oregon at home for the Civil War, the Beavers have a shot at winning 10 games this year – something no one thought was possible a month ago.
CURSE OF THE ACCENT MARK? Since Wisconsin running back Monteé Ball announced in July at the Big Ten media days that his name is pronounced “Mon-TAY” instead of “Mon-TEE,” he has been jumped by fellow students in Madison, averaged a putrid 3.9 yards per carry so far this year and, most recently, suffered a head injury that knocked him out of Saturday’s game against UTEP. Ball’s Heisman campaign is finished, his NFL Draft stock has plummeted and now he might lose future carries to freshman Melvin Gordon, who looked phenomenal against the Miners.
FAILURE TO LAUNCH: Speaking of doomed Heisman campaigns, Denard Robinson’s performance against Notre Dame was an absolute nightmare. All the talk about his improvement as a passer during the offseason was just that: talk. “Shoelace” has thrown for eight interceptions in four games and things won’t get any easier now that the Big Ten season is starting. You can bet Michigan will see eight-man fronts the rest of this season, just begging Robinson to beat them through the air.
Top five games: Week 5
5. No. 8 Stanford vs. Washington: Washington has been known to pull big upsets in Seattle but it will have to play a lot better on Thursday than it did in a 41-3 loss to LSU on Sept. 8.
4. Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Nebraska: The Badgers and Huskers have gotten off to sluggish starts this fall but got a nice spark from running backs Melvin Gordon and Rex Burkhead, respectively, on Saturday. A victory here could revive one of their seasons.
3. Tennessee vs. No. 5 Georgia: Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s hot seat is scorching, and this game should be close because everyone on the Volunteers sideline knows he is coaching for his job.
2. No. 14 Ohio State vs. No. 20 Michigan State: Neither of these teams is nearly as good as its ranking indicates, but this game could decide the Big Ten regular-season champion, divisions aside.
1. No. 25 Baylor vs. No. 9 West Virginia: Is Baylor really a Top 25 team without Robert Griffin III? We’re about to find out. Expect about 90 total points between these two pass-happy offenses.
Photos: Denny Medley, Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire