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Big Teams Post BIG Wins

This was a fairly calm week for BIG football.  The teams at the top took care of business against teams near the bottom, and teams in the middle slugged it out.

Penn State showed Indiana right away they were not going to win in Happy Valley when Saquon Barkley took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.  Barkley showed a different dimension of his greatness as a player Saturday.  The Hoosiers actually held him in check from scrimmage, but he still found ways to beat them.  Not only did he run back the kickoff, he caught four passes and threw for a touchdown.  If I had a vote for the Heisman, he would get it right now.

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

Wisconsin dominated Northwestern in the third quarter to build a 31-10 lead, then what seemed like all of a sudden, the Wildcats had the ball down 31-24 with 1:09 left in the game.  Northwestern’s QB Clayton Thornson had absorbed seven sacks up to that point, which may have contributed to the colossal brain fart he had to snuff out their last glimmer of hope. The Wildcats had second down from their own two yard line when Thornton was under pressure in the end zone.  He had ample opportunity to throw the ball away but didn’t and suffered sack #8 for a safety.  With a visit from Penn State next week, things don’t get easier for Northwestern. 

I wrote last week that I thought the way Maryland responded to their collapse against Central Florida would say a lot about the team and Coach D. J. Durkin.  I happily stand by that and like what it said about them all.  In two road wins so far this season, at Texas and Minnesota, it has been the Terps making the clutch plays and showing poise-sings of character and good coaching; the foundations of a good program.  Next week, however they travel to play a great program at Ohio State.  Let’s see how well they can compete with the mighty Buckeyes.

Michigan State put an end to any realistic hope Iowa had of winning the West division by stuffing the Hawkeyes’ vaunted running game (only 25 yards in 19 attempts) in a workmanlike 17-10 win.  The Spartans travel to the Big House with an opportunity to make a statement with an upset over Michigan, which will be coming off a bye. Expect a nasty, low scoring classic type BIG slugfest on ABC’s Saturday night game. 

Nebraska warmed up for next week’s big visit from Wisconsin with a solid 28-6 win at Illinois, at least temporarily cooling the hot seat for Head Coach Mike Riley.  The Blackshirt defense has reasserted itself, and a Husker win would give them the inside track at winning the West division.  I don’t see that happening, but it’s another important prime time game to watch next Saturday.

BIG Trouble

It would have been hard to avoid the news last week about the FBI indictments regarding money changing hands between sneaker companies, financial advisors, families of recruits, and assistant coaches in college basketball.  Much has been written about this, especially the overdue demise of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, and I won’t rehash the details here, but since I allegedly write a college sports column I would be remiss if I didn’t at least comment on it in this space.

So far, no BIG schools have been implicated.  Arizona, Southern Cal, Auburn, and Oklahoma State all had assistant coaches charged.  There was also the huge mess at Louisville, and Miami is under FBI investigation.  The sneaker companies took a bit hit, with an executive for Addidas being indicted, and Nike under investigation.  Notably for Maryland fans, no mention of Under Armour—yet. 

This investigation is huge, and is much closer to the beginning than the end.  One consistent opinion I saw from the national writers as the story was unfolding last week was that everyone knew lots of money was changing hands during the recruiting process, but nobody had been able to prove it.  That implies this practice cannot be isolated to those few schools, and that any school that has hauled in a highly rated player is likely to fall under scrutiny. 

Most of the BIG would qualify, including Maryland.  If you hear that Under Armour is implicated in any of these activities, it’s time to worry about the Terps since Maryland is their primary benefactor.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, especially for those of us who endured the aftermath of the Terps’ probation in the early 1990’s. 

Ultimately, there is so much money flowing through not just college but “amateur” basketball at the AAU level that it is hard to imagine rules being applied that are effective enough to counter the temptation of people, especially teenagers who are fought over to be exploited for the benefit of schools, television networks, and sneaker companies, to take a cut.  This story will play out over the coming months, perhaps even years, and I’ll comment on it periodically as events warrant.

BIG Notes

Purdue is mourning the passing of former Head Coach Joe Tiller, who passed away Friday at the age of 74.  The school’s official release referred to Tiller as the “winningest football coach and one of the most beloved and popular figures in Purdue history.”  Tiller posted an 87-62 record from 1997-2008 and led the Boilermakers to the 2001 Rose Bowl, a team quarterbacked by someone you may have heard of-Drew Brees.  Tiller brought excitement back to a program that had gone 54-107-5 the previous 15 years, and the energy he brought to the school is a big part of his lasting legacy.

Lest anyone forget about Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh during their bye, he showed up at a cannonball diving competition as a judge, then finally as a participant; cap, khakis, and all.  He may want to rethink his strategy should there be an encore performance.

Penn State had a throwback day on Saturday, which for them is more subtle than most teams since they’ve never really thrown very far forward.  The numbers on the helmets and the diamonds in the end zones (I kind of like that) were what gave it away. 

Predictions are coming in for the BIG men’s basketball season, and Michigan State is the clear favorite (and also a Final Four contender thanks to the return of All-American candidate Myles Bridges).  Purdue, Minnesota, and Northwestern are also near the top of the predictions.  Maryland falls around sixth or seventh, and I’ll say right now I think that will be too low.  Rutgers and Nebraska are bringing up the rear, just below rebuilding Ohio State and Indiana.

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.

The BIG has four top ten teams.  Can they avoid a season-changing upset next week?  Will Rutgers’ bye week be the lead in their season highlight film?  God bless em’. Answers to these questions and more in next week’s column. Until then, live large and have a BIG week everyone

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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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