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The BIG Blog: The BIG Mess in the BIG Ten East

Last week, unable to come up with a particularly snazzy closing to my column, I wrote what I figured was a throwaway line, “Next week I’ll look back and see how much of this week’s column got overrun by events, and preview the Michigan State-Ohio State showdown.” Turn out, a lot of last week’s column got overrun, not to mention Ohio State and much of the BIG’s playoff hopes.

It all seemed so simple a couple of weeks ago; the Penn State-Ohio State winner would likely win out, the winner of their conference championship game with Wisconsin would snag a playoff spot, and either Saquon Barkley or J. T. Barrett would bring home the Heisman trophy. Yeah…it doesn’t look like any of that is going to happen now.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

So what got us to this point? As we sift through the carnage of dashed hopes and lost playoff chances, the best place to start is Iowa City. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was wisely concerned about a letdown after their emotional win over Penn State the week before, and Iowa is known for being quite inhospitable to high-ranked visiting teams. Instead of a letdown. Meyer’s Buckeyes suffered a beatdown that no one, not even those cute sick kids in the hospital behind Kinnick Stadium, had any reason to see coming.

Former Heisman hopeful J. T. Barrett doubled his season total of interceptions on the first play from scrimmage, when the Hawkeyes defense struck with a pick-six. Barrett seemed to gather himself after that, and the teams fought to a 17-17 tie early in the second quarter. Astonishingly, Iowa dominated the rest of the game, hanging 31 unanswered points on the NFL-caliber (at least last week) Buckeye defensive line. Barrett wound up with a career-high four interceptions, and Urban Meyer suffered the worst loss of his head coaching career.

Iowa fans, on the other hand, ware left wondering if this was the best game the Hawkeyes had played under Coach Kirk Ferentz, which is saying something in light of the fact that this was the fourth time they have knocked off a top-five team at home in the last five years.

This result was the answer to Penn State fans’ prayers and gave them a chance to move back into a tie for first in the East. Not so fast my friend; in fact, there was nothing fast about the Penn State-Michigan State game, which kicked off at noon and finished near 7:00 PM thanks to an extended weather delay. Remember back in the old days when everyone just took their chances when a storm blew in? It wasn’t as safe, of course, but the games sure got done quicker.

It also didn’t help that both teams were surprisingly pass-happy, putting the ball in the air a combined 104 times. Former Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley (yes, I know I gave him the trophy last month, one of many valid reasons I don’t actually get a vote) was a non-factor, and the best QB on the field was not the Nittany Lions’ Trace McSorley, but rather the Spartan’s suddenly prolific Brian Lewerke. A week after setting a school record with 445 yards passing, Lewerke put up 400 yards in the air, tied for second in school history.

This was a tight game throughout, but ultimately Penn State made one too many mistakes. They nearly overcame three turnovers, but an obvious roughing-the-passer call on the final drive put Michigan State in field goal range for freshman Matt Coughlin (when they showed his picture before the kick, I wondered if they had cropped it from his senior prom photo, which would only have been a few months ago). Coughlin knocked in the 34-yard attempt and the thousands of fans that had braved hours of miserable weather in East Lansing were rewarded.

So, it’s another Sunday wondering about the health of the latest injured Maryland QB. I saw on Twitter today where someone suggested Terps basketball point guard Anthony Cowan take a crack at it since he is a good passer. His response was “Put me in coach.” No thanks, he’s too important to the basketball team. Coach Durkin was very disappointed at Maryland giving up 239 yards on the ground in their 31-24 loss at Rutgers.

That does not bode well for next week, when Michigan visits College Park fresh off a game where they plowed over Minnesota 33-10 and ran for 371 yards in the process. Wolverines’ junior Karan Higdon gained 200 yards on only 16 carries. There is still a way that Michigan could wind up in a four-way tie for first in the East Division with Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State if the Wolverines win out. I have no idea who would win the tie breakers; just thinking about it gave me a headache.

Meanwhile, over in the West Wisconsin continues to cruise toward the division championship, needing only one more win to clinch. Northwestern has again shaken off a rough start to emerge as the second best team in that division, winning in overtime for the second straight week, a 31-24 victory at Nebraska that was surprising because it was not all that surprising.

Meanwhile, Indiana and Illinois meet this week for a low-down showdown-both teams are winless in the conference (a surprising result for the Hoosiers, not so much for the Illini) and the looser is virtually assured of staying that way.

The BIG Preview:

Next week, Michigan State travels to Ohio State at noon on Fox Sports with first place in the East on the line. The winner will be in control of the division; all they would need to do is win out, perhaps not as easy as it seemed a couple of weeks ago.

I have no reasonable explanation for what happened to the Buckeyes at Iowa, maybe they were overwhelmed by the pinkness of the visiting locker room there (alright, if you have a better idea, I’m all ears). Most of us have underestimated Michigan State this year, but they still don’t pass the eye test (last Saturday being the exception) when compared to Ohio State.

I would imagine this will be a very, very hard week of practice for the Buckeyes, and they will be looking to take it out on the Spartans in front of their home crowd. For what it’s worth (I’m 0-2 on these picks so far), I have to pick Ohio State, 34-24.

BIG Notes:

I was outraged…okay more like a bit put out, with the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings. I thought the BIG got the short end being shut out of the top five. Never mind.

The good news in the polls this week is that there are six BIG teams ranked in the AP Top 25; Wisconsin #5, Ohio State #11, Michigan State #13, Penn State #16, Michigan #21, and Iowa debuts at #25. The Badgers are #3 in the Coaches’ poll, and that doesn’t meet the eye test, the smell test, whatever test you want to run having them ahead of Notre Dame or Clemson. I could see Wisconsin moving up to #7 in the Playoff rankings this week. A lot would have to happen for the Badgers to get in. A lot. If they keep winning, though, they are holding on to that slim chance.

Did you notice Penn State coach James Franklin running like mad after his players immediately following the end of their game? Turns out he was telling them to go back and congratulate the winners. He continues to intrigue me, and that’s an impressive reaction immediately after a painful loss.

I saw this note earlier today; Nebraska lost a total of four home games in the 1990’s. They have lost four home games in the last eight weeks. Those are the kinds of trends that make fans very antsy and new athletic directors eager to change that. The first step is usually a coaching change. My guess (see above for my accuracy with these) is that there will be a new Cornhusker head coach next year, probably but not certainly Central Florida’s Scott Frost. The coaching carousel could have some big players this year. Florida is already an early entry, and could be joined by Nebraska, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas, UCLA, and others as the dominoes fall.

Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @The_BIGBlog and reach me by e-mail at [email protected] I also hang out on the message boards, mostly in the University of Maryland & NCAA sections, where I periodically post links to BIG news stories you might find interesting. You can also go there to find the Deified Dozen football national rankings by the experts (?) here at BSL.

BTW, I had indicated when I began this column that I would be covering basketball, but I’ve had to change that-I’ll be sticking to football and then wrapping the BIG Blog up when the season is over.

Next week I’ll look at bowl possibilities for BIG teams, and I’ll preview Michigan’s visit to Wisconsin. Until then, live large and have a BIG week everyone.

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Written by Jim Johnson
2 weeks ago
College Football, , ,

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is a life-long Maryland Terrapins and college sports fan and a proud U of Md. alum. Jim started writing about the Terps on his own blog during the Steve Francis season of 1998-99. He then moved on to cover ACC hoops and football across the Internet, adopting the moniker "The Courtmaster" and becoming a frequent "expert" guest on Bob Haynie's old WNST show and other sports radio stations across the country. You can find some of his classic (?) work on his old blog. Jim laid down his gavel in 2007 and is returning to sportswriting after a sabbatical he spent furthering his career as a non-profit executive and senior accounting professional, becoming an ordained minister, and gnashing his teeth/sulking about Maryland joining the Big Ten. He figured the best way to scratch his sportswriting itch was to dive in head first to learn about the Big Ten, the current teams, schools, and history, and share what he learns with our readers. Jim enjoys interacting with readers, exchanging ideas, and most of all having fun. You can chat with him on the message boards or by e-mail at [email protected]

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