Mr. Bucknuts Bucket of Bullets

The Big Ten has proven to be a strong and competitive conference this year. Who are the haves and have-nots in the Big Ten?

The easy way out for Mr. Bucknuts this week would be to comment on just how tough Happy Valley is; or how Zack Mills always plays us tough when we are up there; or how tough it would have been to have lost to both Wisconsin and Penn State again just like two years ago or…well, tough. I want to talk about something(s) else, today.

While Ohio State fans roll their eyes and says "woe is our Buckeyes" (eight-and-one and playing for both the Big Ten and national championships with just three games to go – but more on that later) or talk about how unbeatable Oklahoma is (just like how unbeatable Miami was – until they got beat), I want to talk about the suddenly-amazing Big Ten, an eleven team conference with a greater disparity between the Haves and the Have Nots than the citizens from the state of Mississippi. And if Notre Dame was to lower itself to join the Big Ten? They would be in the part with the Have Nots. Posers. Pretenders. Kings of Denial.

Enough of that. Let's cut to the bottom line…

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Voyage to the Bottom… Yes, down here in the silt and the ooze, live the bottom dwellers. Two teams so bad that they don't even qualify as potential reclamation projects. First, defining "bottom" is Indiana. The only game the Hoosiers won this year was against a Division I-AA team that has a losing record in its own division. This is a team that Rodney Dangerfield wouldn't talk to. They will be one-and-ten this year and only have 60 scholarship players plus one unlikable coach. The good news is that their players are very young. The bad news is that their young players are not very good. Instead of asking another team to join us and round out the Big Ten, it has been suggested that we get rid of Indiana and round up. But…then you have Illinois. That's right – the Fighting Illini, perennial contenders now turned pretenders. Remember the Ron Turner from two years ago who was the Boy Genius of the conference? Next year, he will become Ron Turner, unemployed. This program isn't re-loading. They are off-loading.

Last week, Indiana lost to a so-so Minnesota team 55-7 although Minnesota only threw for about 60 yards. Last week, Illinois lost to Iowa by 31 points. Yes, this is the same Iowa team that eked out about 200 yards against the Buckeyes. They got over 500 against the Frightening Illini.

So, these two Have Nots will never win again, right? No, the good news for one of them is that they play each other next week…

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Just off the bottom and hovering…We have Northwestern and Penn State. All right, it's a low blow putting Northwestern in the same class as Penn State. After all, the Wildcats have beaten Wisconsin, have won four games and could be bowl eligible if they win two more (honest – you can look it up!). They also beat Kansas, Duke, and Indiana (in overtime), a veritable Who's Who of the also-rans. But they also lost by 30 to Miami (that's Miami of Ohio, fans) and 25 to Minnesota and barely made it across the 50-yard line against OSU. Penn State, on the other hand, has yet to win a Big Ten game. In fact, their two wins are over Temple (who is now 1-7) and Kent State (who is 3-7 in the MAC). Yes, they almost toppled our Buckeyes but – hey – this is Penn State! We expect a tad more.

So will either of these two teams win again this year? Yes. Next week, one of them will win – they play each other…

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A legend in their own minds…And here, at intermission, we have to say a few words about Notre Dame. A team too haughty to deign to join the Big Ten. A school that hired first a fraud and then hired Ty Willingham. Or is that redundant? Last year, Domer fans were worried that Ty would jump from the Irish to the NFL. After this year, he would have a hard sell catching on with an Arena Football team. As much as I would have liked to see the FSU Seminoles get beat Saturday, the Irish had as much chance as the Christians did against the lions. Believe me, the Florida State team is not that good. Notre Dame is simply that bad.

The Fighting I-Wish lost 37-0, to now stand 2-6 on the season. They have lost to three Big Ten teams by a total score of 83-26. And they have lost to two top 10 teams in the last three weeks by a combined score of 82-14. And those were home games! Great ghost of Knute Rockne.

Forget the fact that Rudy could now start for the Irish. Radio could, too…

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Mid-pack Big Ten…Then there are those scheduling darlings from Minnesota. I actually like Glen Mason and liked him even more when he had Michigan down 28-7. But then the Northern Rodents scored 31 points in 15 minutes and we started reciting "The Emperor Has No Clothes" under our collective breaths for the third year in a row. Talk about a schedule – and it's every year we talk about it. Minnesota guarantees itself a bowl game annually by playing four patsies early on. This yea's sacrifice list included Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio U, and Louisiana Lafayette – two I-AA schools and two schools barely in Division I. They then squeaked out wins over Penn State and Northwestern (see above) to go 6-0 while brazenly claiming they got no respect. They got even less respect two Saturdays after that once the Michigan schools scored 80 points on them in 8 days. To get back on track, they were allowed to play Illinois and Indiana back-to-back (see above, also).

Wisconsin, now, is a lot harder to define. Their super back, Anthony Davis, has been dinged and often unavailable. Their signal caller, Jim Sorgi, has missed a couple of games (Rob Reynolds was only responsible for one of those). They won some big games like the 24-17 win at West Virginia and, of course, the Big Blemish when their second string QB beat our Buckeyes in a driving rainstorm and a hail of batteries. But they lost to UNLV (!) 23-5 and to Northwestern (!) 16-7. Will the real Badgers please stand up?

Are these two teams for real? We will find out next week when they play each other…

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On to bigger things…The true strength of the conference (perhaps any conference) lies in those top tier teams, of which any could become conference champs. Other than our Buckeyes and Michigan (more on that in a bit), we have Iowa, Purdue and Michigan State in this category. Fortunately, we have already bested Iowa and they might become one of those "quality wins" teams that help us in the BCS. Unfortunately, we have yet to play the rest of the talented teams in the Big Ten and any of those three can derail aspirations that we have for conference or national titles.

I watched a Michigan State team that wasn't supposed to be very good this year. They are playing inspired football but it took a determined effort on the part of Michigan to let them hang around. MSU got two-thirds of their points off a blown coverage and a fumble returned for a touchdown. The Spartans dropped a dozen passes and their cornerbacks played "matador coverage" as they waved at receivers running by them. We really should beat these guys, in the relative comfort of Ohio stadium.

Which brings up the Boilermakers and the traditional Gut Check game on November 15. I think that if anyone deserves the current mantle of Boy Genius in our conference, it is Joe Tiller; playing with under-recognized recruits and playing well consistently. But if Tressel has been recognized as the guy who wins the close ones, Tiller is the guy that loses them. So far this year, he has only lost the opener to Bowling Green (ouch) and was blown out by Michigan. And just as we are about to see if Iowa was a quality win, Purdue takes them on this coming Saturday…

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North to Michigan…No jokes in this space yet, but I will reprise my "Carr Wreck" argument that Lloyd can beat any team in the country and lose to any. It's been one of those kinds of years for the Michigan faithful, but, dad-gummit, they are really on a roll right now, having completely dominated both Purdue and Michigan State back-to-back. They have the best group of receivers in the conference, and – perhaps – the best tailback. They have the standard issue Michigan defense. And all they have left between now and the showdown in Ann Arbor with our Buckeyes is a bye week and Northwestern. If that's not redundant.

This year's version of the UM roller coaster won its first three games by a total score of 133-10. Then, just as they were about to be anointed the best team of all-time, they were beaten by Oregon and Iowa in their next three games. But in their last three? They have rung up 114 points and are rolling with a balanced attack.

We will see what November 22 brings. But if Tressel beats this group at the Big Hole, the SEC (the New York boys, not that cheating conference) and Las Vegas might start an inquiry…

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Carmen all ye faithful…I can't duck out of this review of the obvious without one pointed thought on our own bending-but-not-broken Buckeyes. If – during the coaching search to replace John Cooper – someone would have come up to you and said that the new coach would average over 10 wins a game for the next three season and beat Michigan, would you have been giddy?

I thought so…

Throw in a national championship, why don't you, just to fulfill all of our fantasies.

He did.

So let's vow to get off his back. At least until he loses again…

Check in every week for the scores!

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