Last Saturday was my first opportunity since football season began to relax, flip on the television and watch the Big Ten's other teams for the first time.
I was already skeptical of the majority of the conference before Saturday's slate of games. Eleven Big Ten teams in two weeks of conference games had played only five games against BCS conference and posted an unflattering record of 3-2 (Penn State crushing dismal Oregon State and Northwestern (Northwestern?) going 2-0 against Syracuse and Duke). Needless to say, the rap on the Big Ten was not all that glaring.
But the Big Ten was lacing up its boots on Saturday with five teams playing BCS opponents and Wisconsin heading on the road to play No.21 Fresno State. This was going to be the day the Big Ten returned to the national spotlight as a conference to be reckoned with, with the two cherries on top being Ohio State throttling USC and Wisconsin dismantling Fresno.
After sitting down and watching eight Big Ten games Saturday, my opinion on the conference has changed. I am no longer skeptical, I am embarrassed.
Starting off watching Michigan State host Florida Atlantic, Iowa host Iowa State and Minnesota host Montana State was mind-numbing. Eliminate Javon Ringer and State generated no offense in a steady rain, Iowa had no passing game in pure sunshine and Montana State was within five points with three minutes left in the third. Throw in Illinois sputtered, struggling and squeaking past Louisiana-Lafayette and I almost considered throwing in the towel to flip on the Brewers (eh, maybe not that desperate).
While the early games left little to be desired, I had faith that the strength of the conference was going to be the afternoon games showed when the power teams took the field. The result showed a) how much better the other conferences are and b) how bad Michigan is.
I don't care what the weather is but Rich Rodriguez has to be going certifiably insane after watching his rebuilding project fumble the ball seven … SEVEN … times and commit six turnovers.
"I don't think we're that far off. We've just got to play better," Rodriguez said postgame. "I've said it many times, we're not good enough to play poorly and win."
He's right that the luxury of Michigan being able to make mistakes and win is gone. He's delusional if he thinks the Wolverines are on the cusp of success.
After ABC finally woke up and realized most of the country didn't want to see Penn State 45, Syracuse 6, the national audience got to see a Boilermaker run out of steam, blowing a 20-6 halftime lead and losing in double overtime to No.16 Oregon, Purdue's 15th consecutive loss against a ranked team.
As for the nightcap and Ohio State's big chance to prove that they are legit? Well, at least we don't have to wait until the national championship game for the Buckeyes to get embarrassed, dismantled and humbled. Beanie Wells or no Beanie Wells, it would have made little difference because the Trojans would have crushed the class of the Big Ten whether the game was played in Columbus, Los Angeles or the Arctic.
The only ounce of dignity the Big Ten got on Saturday was after most of the country went to bed, as Wisconsin somehow survived horrendous officiating, a rowdy environment and the inability of Fresno State to nail the coffin shut in a grinder of a game (hardly sexy enough for the national pundits to applaud over).
In three weeks, nine conference teams are practically eliminated for a chance to play for the national championship because of either weak scheduling or BCS losses. Only six undefeated schools remain and the only two with a legitimate chance to make it to a title game are Wisconsin (the only school to beat a ranked opponent in 08) and Penn State, who has whooped up on three cream puffs.
After a day watching the Big Ten Conference, I wish I could do it over and catch the red eye to Fresno. Anything would have been better than Sabotage Saturday. Don't worry, it's back to normal for the conference this week as eight schools play eight unranked opponents and only one (Pittsburgh) comes from a BCS Conference, so expect that win total to skyrocket. Without question, the Big Ten conference is in a deep valley with a step incline in waiting. With only two diamonds left, the brass in Chicago better hope either Penn State or Wisconsin can make it through all of the carnage left by the Big XII, the Pac 10 and (gulp) the Irish to bring some respectably back to the history-rich conference. Either that or face the reality of being the new BCS laughing stock of college football for another year.
I wonder what else is on?