Trick? Or Treat?
As Halloween and that scary first College Football Playoff poll approach, what’s the verdict on this Big Ten season?
It’s been a mixed bag in some ways. But if we compare the Big Ten’s accomplishments heading into Week 10 to its preseason expectations, the Big Ten hasn’t measured up.
A big part of that is ``expectations.’’ We built up the league, based on returnees and that gaudy 7-1 bowl record. (I don’t care what anybody says: When you miss the four-team playoff, it creates better matchups right down the bowl-lineup line.)
Remember that talk about the Big Ten East being the best division in the nation? Now it wouldn’t even be among the best two divisions in the SEC.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The Big Ten in the AP pre-season poll: No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State and No. 14 Michigan.
This week’s AP poll: No. 5 Michigan, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 14 Penn State and No. 19 Iowa,
Michigan has held up its end of the deal. And let’s give credit to Iowa for elbowing its way into another surprisingly promising season.
Let’s also give shout-outs to Purdue and Northwestern. Although the Boilermakers crushed people in Columbus and diminished the Big Ten’s chances for post-season glory, their steamroller job on Ohio State ranks as the Win of the Season so far.
But Purdue failed to validate its VIP parking, falling at Michigan State.
Meanwhile, if Northwestern can win at Iowa on Nov. 10, the Wildcats will be a virtual lock for the Big Ten championship game. And while wining in Iowa City won’t be easy, there are worse places to play.
That’s why my many sports-media friends who have NU sheepskins already have booked their Marriott VIP rooms in Indianapolis. (Eminently cancelable, of course.)
The weird thing about Northwestern is, because it will never live down that loss to Akron, it was 27th in the AP voting this week despite a four-game winning streak after it nearly knocked off Michigan.
Northwestern also was 27th because. . . it’s Northwestern.
The Big Ten’s problem is, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State have under-performed. Or should we say, they have failed to meet expectations.
The Badgers’ issues started with a lack of chemistry and quality defensive depth. With more All-Pro offensive linemen than the Green Bay Packers, they were a dark horse to crack the College Football Playoff.
And then BYU happened. By the time Wisconsin got to Ann Arbor and Evanston, its bags were packed.
With 19 starters back, Sparty also was a dark horse to crack the College Football Playoff. The problem was, Michigan State couldn’t run and it couldn’t take the heat at Arizona State.
The sky was supposed to be the limit for Ohio State and Penn State,
And then the Nittany Lions gave up 245 rushing yards at Illinois. And then, after that wrenching one-point loss to Ohio State, James Franklin talked about being a great program but needing to become an elite program.
He didn’t bring that up after the loss to Michigan State.
While I agree that Franklin makes some weird play-calling decisions at the end of games, I think that people who want him fired for that reason are. . . wrong. Overall, he has done a great job. And he comes up with interesting quotes.
And then there’s Ohio State, which was supposed to be a lock for the College Football Playoff. The question in the Midwest was, could the Big Ten slip a second team into the Final Four?
The problem was, Ohio State can’t run. And it gives up big plays as if they were fun-sized Milky Ways.
The bigger problem is, Ohio State cost the Big Ten its moral high ground with its handling of that assistant coach’s domestic-abuse issues. You can lose games. But losing perspective is never a good thing.
For all their troubles, the Buckeyes moved up from 11th to No. 8, which is not bad for a bye week.
And despite that bad loss at Purdue, Ohio State is lurking in the playoff picture.
That might be the best one-word description of this Big Ten season as it heads into November: Lurking.[/membership]