Every Thursday, Pickin' on the Big Ten breaks down action across the conference.
ABOVE: A rare photograph of a Michigan player holding on to a football somewhat securely.
Conference play finally starts this weekend, which should bring a temporary halt to the chorus of "... but they haven't played anybody yet" coming from all corners of the college football universe. With the real games ready to start, let's take a look back at some notable accomplishments in the non-conference season.
Best win: Wisconsin over Fresno State, though I imagine Minnesota's beatdown of Florida Atlantic felt pretty good after what happened last season.
Worst loss: Notre Dame over Michigan. Yeah, OSU lost by more points and looked bad doing it, but at least the Buckeyes lost to a good team.
Worst win: Ohio State over Ohio, a sloppy game which told us the Bucks had no chance against USC the following week.
Best loss: California over Michigan State, thanks to some last-second Cal heroics. Would be Oregon over Purdue, if only the Ducks hadn't lost to Boise State.
Most improved team: Minnesota, which apparently has discovered the importance of putting up at least a token defense.
Puking up pastry: Indiana, who had two seemingly impressive wins over Western Kentucky and Murray State nullified by a Lehman Brothers-like meltdown against Ball State. And speaking of those Hoosiers ...
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MICHIGAN STATE @ INDIANA
... Ooogh. How will Indiana regroup after a three-touchdown (plus) loss to those Cardinals of David Letterman U? I'm not sure, but Sparty is not the team they want to be facing right now, especially since IU gave up 166 yards of rushing and four touchdowns to Ball State's MiQuale Lewis. Not to take anything away from Lewis or Brady Hoke's team, but is there any reason not to think that Javon Ringer is going to drop a deuce (literally and figuratively) on Indiana? If you can think of one, let me know. The best I can come up with is if Brian Hoyer picks the bones of a slightly suspect IU secondary. Sparty will make a statement about how it's going to be in the Big Ten for their opponents this season.
|WE'RE STILL CAMPING OUT IN THE IZZONE||34|
|MR. CREAN GETS RID OF DUST AND GRIME||13|
NORTHWESTERN @ IOWA
Give your props to Pat Fitzgerald, who has the Wildcats 4-0 for the first time since the Beatles were playing on the Reeperbahn, but keep in mind that NU's four vanquished opponents have combined to beat exactly one Division 1-A Football Bowl Subdivision team. Tyrell Sutton returns to try and revive the moribund Wildcat offense.
For Iowa, well, they've done a season without a running back, and a season without wide receivers; now, apparently, they're taking a stab at a season without a quarterback. Ricky Stanzi tops the depth chart this week after Jake Christensen was not very effective in last week's loss to Pitt. Of greater concern, from Iowa's point of view, is the sudden disappearance of the pass rush in that game. The Hawks only sacked Pitt once.
So how does all of that play into this game? Northwestern's defense finds itself in the unusual position of trying to bail out the offense (it's usually the other way around) but Tyrell Sutton's return might help things quite a bit. However, Iowa's defense is far and away the best one NU has faced thus far. If Ricky Stanzi can get into a rhythm before the Wildcat pass rush (which is quite good) starts collapsing the pocket, Iowa should be able to handle the Wildcats. That, however, is a big if. I like Iowa in a squeaker, but if this game was at Ryan Field, i wouldn't.
|SCHOOL WITH A GOOD JOURNALISM PROGRAM||10|
|SCHOOL WITH A BETTER WRITING PROGRAM||16|
WISCONSIN @ MICHIGAN
Fresno State's skin-tight win over Toledo last week has taken a little bloom off Wisconsin's rose. However, the Badgers have had a nasty habit of losing their first road game in recent years, which is why the win seems so huge in spite of it all. Meanwhile, Michigan ... yeeulk. It could be a real long year in Ann Arbor.
Normally you'd expect the Wolverines to roll the Badgers in the Big House, but this isn't a normal circumstance. The Wolverines have been idle since that absolute puker of a game against Notre Dame, when they fumbled seven times and threw two picks. Then again, Wisconsin didn't play last week either.
Michigan's defense has been iron-clad against the run, but that's mostly because they've been like wet toilet paper against the pass. Wisconsin, of course, is no threat to throw the ball, but it wold be naive to think that Michigan can clog Wisconsin's running game the same way they've clogged everybody else's. The Wolverines aren't quite as bad as some want to make them out to be, but I don't think they'll prevail in this game, though it promises to be interesting--when Wisconsin has the ball, that is.
|PUT DA MAYO ON DA CHEESE BRAT, HEY?||27|
|DOES ZINGERMAN'S SELL BRATWURST?||12|
PURDUE @ NOTRE DAME
If you thought Purdue had finally turned the corner on defense, the numbers don't bear you out. Not at all. The standard high-potency Purdue offense is still in effect, mitigating the disaster, but pretty soon the Boilermakers are going to go up against (another) offense that can score points just as fast as they can, and if that team also happens to have a halfway decent defense, Tiller's crew is doomed.
Of course, that's not going to happen this week.
|IF I WAS A PAINTER||36|
|BUT THEN AGAIN, NO||14|
Know Your Non-Conference Tomato Can: University of Notre Dame
Best known for its appearances in such Hollywood classics as Knute Rockne, All-American, Rudy, and We Sleep Every Night On A Great Big Pile Of NBC's Money, the University of Notre Dame is located in South Bend, Indiana. (As you're driving from Chicago on the Indiana Toll Road, it's the third university with an exit sign.)
Notre Dame is an actual university and not just a football program with its own TV contract. In fact, Notre Dame is well-regarded academically with fairly high admission standards which provide a built-in excuse for the last twenty years of Notre Dame football.
A fresco on Notre Dame's Hesburgh Library is known as "Touchdown Jesus" because Jesus' pose is similar to the signal for a touchdown, a made field goal, or a successful point after touchdown. Its purpose is to remind Notre Dame fans of what this signal looks like, since they seldom see it any more.
Notre Dame's best known alumnus is Regis Philbin, who will never let you forget that he's Notre Dame's best known alumnus.
MINNESOTA @ OHIO STATE
Speaking of "not quite as bad as everybody seems to think," there's Ohio State. To hear the Buckeyes' detractors (and, admittedly, some of their fans) talk, you'd think they started showing up for the games in swimsuits, carrying hockey sticks, asking if the third inning has started yet. They have a bad loss and two underwhelming wins, raising the spectre of whether they really should be ranked at this point, but they're still a talented football team. Jim Tressel has also figured out which of his two top quarterbacks is better, which puts him one up on Kirk Ferentz.
Meanwhile, things are going better in Minneapolis, but let's not forget that the four opponents the Gophers have flattened have a combined total of four wins. One of those is over a Division II team, for cryin' out loud. To say the Gophers are untested would be putting it kindly; they're about due for their usual start-of-the-conference-season insulin shock. Things look better on defense, but let's face it, Beanie Wells is picking a good week to come back.
ILLINOIS @ PENN STATE
So far Jay Paterno's Spread HD looks like the best offense this side of the Tecmo Bowl. It would be unfair, however, to point out the Gophers' weak opponents and ignore the Nits'. They stand with one more win than the Gophers' opponents, but three of those five wins are over I-AA Football Championship Subdivision teams. Illinois hasn't exactly distinguished itself on defense, but at least the Illini have played a challenging game, even if they lost.
Still, the Nits are a fearsome offensive machine, and like I keep saying, when have you ever known a Penn State team to have a bad defense? The Nits won't totally shut Illinois down, but they will make their case for why they're the team to beat in the Big Ten.
|AT LEAST WE WON'T LOSE ANOTHER ROSE BOWL||20|
|NEPOTISM? WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT?||45|
Next week's games!
- Illinois @ Michigan: Lowered Expectations Bowl 2008
- Iowa @ Michigan State: Will be over in 1 hour, 23 minutes
- Indiana @ Minnesota: Will be over in 1 year, 23 weeks, and 5 days
- Penn State @ Purdue: Take the over on the yardage
- Ohio State @ Wisconsin: The difference between Pasadena and Tampa