Every Thursday, Pickin' on the Big Ten breaks down action across the conference.
ABOVE: The average college football fan's perception of Ohio State's reputation after last Saturday's USC game.
College football needs better villains.
In the wake of Ohio State's soul-shredding loss to Southern Cal last Saturday, the Grave Dancers' Union has been establishing new locals in 49 of the 50 states. It was a terrible performance by a team that was supposed to be better than they've looked so far, but why all the glee? Because the Buckeyes got humbled? I'd say the last two title games were humbling enough. Because the Big Ten got drug down? Here's a message for you, SEC Fan: We get it. We got it two years ago.
Right now hating on the Buckeyes is as useless and wasteful as hating the Buffalo Bills for losing four straight Super Bowls. It might ultimately prove as pointless as hating the New York Yankees has been for the past few seasons. The Yankees really aren't good enough to hate any more, and the Buckeyes might not be the best team in the Big Ten.
So there's no reason to act like Clubber Lang just got knocked out by Rocky Balboa. If OSU was your idea of a college football villain, what are you going to do when a real villain (think Erickson's Hurricanes, Spurrier's Gators, Switzer's Sooners) shows up?
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End of rant. On to the games!
BALL STATE @ INDIANA
You can't call this one a MACrifice. Indiana is 2-0 against absolutely no one, while Ball State has two good wins and one layup. The Cardinals' defensive numbers are seriously skewed because they played Navy, but their offense is every bit as capable as Indiana's. Nate Davis might even be a better quarterback than Kellen Lewis.
Normally I'd go with the home team and the big-name squad in a match of equals, but the Hoosiers are untested and well-rested (they didn't play last week). One of the POtBT axioms, however, is "Competition creates competitors." Ball State has been tested and, more importantly, they've passed. I like the Cardinals' chances in this one.
IOWA @ PITTSBURGH
Kirk Ferentz. Dave Wannstedt.. There's two coaches whose names will never again be connected with any NFL openings.
Pitt's opening loss to Bowling Green is looking worse by the week, especially since the Falcons got pantsed by Minnesota, of all teams. Pitt's defense is a little suspect, getting decent pressure but giving up a few too many yards. The offense is rolling but not dominant.
In the other uniforms, Iowa's running game is strong (so far) but the quarterback question isn't settled and probably never will be. Ricky Stanzi was not that great against Iowa State last week, so it's a good thing Jake Christensen remembered where he'd parked his big white horse. As of yet it's unclear who will start. Defensively, the Hawks have been like grease and hair in a sink trap: they clog everything.
This will be the best defense Pitt has faced thus far, but this will also be the best offense Iowa has faced thus far. Iowa's superior experience on defense, and its ferocious pass rush, will be more than enough to keep the Hawks in the game. The offense needs to start strong, though, because the defense won't be able to keep Pitt out of the end zone for the whole game. Iowa, in a slugfest.
|DON'T STANZI CLOSE TO JAKE||16|
|FEAR THE 'STACHE||13|
NOTRE DAME @ MICHIGAN STATE
Last week's ND-Michigan game helped sort some things out. It showed that Michigan just isn't a very good team right now but could still hassle some of its opponents by the end of the season. It also showed that Notre Dame isn't as dead as they seemed last season. The Irish have now won four straight going back to 2007, though none of them have been against fearsome opponents.
Last week's Florida Atlantic-MSU game didn't really prove much, since it was like playing football inside a car wash. If Javon Ringer has gotten the feeling back in his legs after 43 carries against the Owls, he figures to be Sparty's best bet, but the passing game needs to factor in since the Irish have been pretty good against the run. (Sam McGuffie excluded, of course.) Notre Dame won't rack up almost 500 yards of offense like Cal did in week one, but they'll get their yards, they'll get their points, and I think they'll continue the road team's remarkable streak in this series. Irish, in a win which will reverberate all the way from Niles to Mishawaka.
|TAKE A KNEE, COACH||24|
|300 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO||21|
FLORIDA ATLANTIC @ MINNESOTA
The Owls got over on the Gophers last season in Fort Lauderdale, and yes, I had to Google FAU to find out where it's located. This could be sweet revenge for the Gophers, but it could bite them in the butt, too. The defense, which has been weak since the Clinton administration, is not improving, and a slow-starting offense let Montana State hang around way too long last week. That would be the same Montana State team that got ground into a fine blue powder by Kansas State the week before, 69-10.
When they're not facing a smothering defense amped up by a septuagenarian's trash talk, or black sheets of rain, the Owls are capable of moving the ball very well. Stopping the ball? Not so much. Since you won't see rain or a good defense in the Metrodome, look for lots of points on the board. But Minnesota will have more of them.
|ON OUR WAY TO 4-8||52|
OHIO @ NORTHWESTERN
Frank Solich's Bobcats look like the ultimate hard-luck story. They outplayed Ohio State for three quarters but ran out gas. They lost their other two games by a combined four points. It isn't bad luck, however, but special teams miscues which have held down the Bobcats. They give away too much field position and too much momentum on kickoffs and punts. That's a pity, because their offense and defense are pretty good.
Meanwhile, raise your hand if you thought Northwestern would be the only team to beat Duke by the time we got to week four of the season. That's what I thought. However, given that NU's other victories have come against sad-sack Syracuse and a somewhat questionable Southern Illinois team, it might be a little premature for the NU faithful to start canceling their New Year's plans. Still, they have in front of them the very achievable goal of being 4-0 for the first time since 1962, and I think they'll get their wish. It won't be easy, though, and you probably won't hear as much talk about how the Northwestern defense is improving--even though it is.
|SCHOOL WITH A GOOD JOURNALISM PROGRAM||24|
|OTHER SCHOOL WITH A GOOD JOURNALISM PROGRAM||31|
TROY @ OHIO STATE
No, they won't lose to the Trojans two weeks in a row. And they won't look bad even in victory, though Troy isn't going to be terrified of the Buckeyes. This is still the team that almost got Georgia last year in Athens.
It's been many years since the Buckeyes had to recover from a really awful in-season loss (four, to be exact) so it's hard telling how they'll come out in this game. "Flat" is a good bet, given that they've now played two disappointing games in a row, and USC gave the rest of the world the blueprint for beating the Bucks. Troy is quite obviously less talented than USC but probably has enough to make a game out it for three quarters.
|EIGHT IN THE BOX||24|
|NOT IN A BOX YET||41|
TEMPLE @ PENN STATE
The good news, for Temple, is that Penn State's check certainly won't bounce.
Temple is a lot better than they have been in years, and if you're into mid-major football, watching the MAC race this season could be fun. Just don't be surprised if Jay Paterno's Spread HD drops 600 yards on the Owls.
Know Your Non-Conference Tomato Can: TempleDon't let the name fool you: Temple is a public university. From its humble beginnings as a dental school in 1863, Temple has grown to be the 28th-largest university in the United States, enrolling almost 35,000 students. Its campus is not exactly located in the nicest part of North Philly, but the quality education draws a student body claimed to be the most diverse in America.
Largely known as a basketball school, Temple has had some success in football, though the last twenty years of Temple football are not fit to discuss in polite society.
Temple's best-known alumnus is Bill Cosby, who actually played football for the Owls. If you've never heard his "Hofstra" routine, you should. (The language is clean but some content is potentially NSFW.)
CENTRAL MICHIGAN @ PURDUE
Yep: the Motor City Bowl rematch we've all been waiting for.
Purdue didn't look as bad as I thought they would against Oregon last week, leading me to think that their defense may be improving. Even more surprising is how good the Boilermakers have been at running the ball, not notably a strength of Joe Tiller's teams.
Central Michigan has its offense running as well, but is significantly weaker on defense than Purdue is. They won't be able to contain Purdue's multipronged attack.
|WE ARE NOT A DIRECTIONAL SCHOOL||31|
|D FOR THE TILLERMAN||42|
Next week's games!
- Michigan State @ Indiana: Or, if you prefer, Army @ Air Force
- Northwestern @ Iowa: Crucial to both teams' bowl hopes
- Wisconsin @ Michigan: Badgers claim Big House in the name of cheese
- Purdue @ Notre Dame: Who's for real? This game will tell us
- Minnesota @ Ohio State: Gopher win streak ends at 4
- Illinois @ Penn State: Here's your Game of the Week