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Sometimes BIG Numbers Lie

I’ve made a living most of my life trying to produce numbers that give a clear picture of the success or failure of a business entity. I would be fired if I produced numbers that lied as badly as the ones in two of the key BIG games on Saturday.

There is no clearer example of this than the much anticipated Penn State-Iowa game. Looking at the numbers, I find the Nittany Lions outgaining the Hawkeyes 579-273 and enjoying a similar 2-1 edge in time of possession. Penn State was even more dominant in first downs with a 29-11 advantage over Iowa. This one must have been over early so fans could move over to the Notre Dame-Michigan State game, right?

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

Not so fast my friend! Iowa’s defense bent and twisted like a pretzel, but did not break for the first 58 minutes of the game, hanging in there until the Hawkeyes took a 19-15 lead with 1:42 left. Then Penn State QB Trace McSorley, who had an up and down night, showed he had saved his best for last. McSorley led a march downfield and threw a delicate 7-yard touchdown pass as the scoreboard and the hope of the passionate Iowa fans both hit zero.

I mentioned Michigan State’s big game with Notre Dame. The Spartans outgained the Irish 496-355 and had an eight minute edge in time of possession. Surely they put up a solid victory at home, right? Not quite. The Irish had an edge in one key number-turnovers. Michigan State gave up three, including a pick-six early in the first quarter that dug a 14-0 hole that the Spartans never came close to crawling out of on their way to a 38-18 loss.

Here are a few other brief observations from a surprisingly interesting week of Big 10 football.

  • Nebraska turned in a workmanlike 27-17 win over Rutgers, wearing them down in the 4th quarter. Most of the excitement for those teams was off the field last week. Nebraska fired athletic director Shawn Eichorst, causing many to wonder if football coach Mike Riley was a lame duck (albeit a highly paid one). Rutgers was placed on two years of probation with some restrictions on recruiting, but thank heavens they didn’t get a bowl ban (God bless ‘em). Former coach Kyle Flood was found to have taken a “casual approach” to NCAA rules, and to winning, apparently-a very bad combination.
  • Michigan’s defense is really nasty. They held Purdue’s high-flying offense to only 189 yards in a 28-10 win in West Lafayette (their first sellout since 2008). The Wolverines broke out of their red zone slump after starting QB Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game and relieved by John O’Korn. There should be no QB controversy in Ann Arbor this week-O’Korn had a strong game and led Michigan to their most complete performance of the year. He should get the next start regardless of Speight’s condition.
  • The less said about Maryland’s debacle against Central Florida the better. Running back Ty Johnson summed it up best when he said “When we had adversity, we didn’t handle it too well.” No sir, not at all. Nearly 20,000 fans came to Maryland Stadium dressed as empty seats on a beautiful afternoon, and with Kasim Hill’s injury (seriousness still undetermined as press time, as they say), it was hard not to feel the oxygen getting sucked out of the excitement from only two weeks ago.
  • I have not seen all the running backs in the nation, but I’ll take Penn State’s Saquon Barkley as the best. His amazing game at Iowa should by itself earn him serious Heisman consideration. His 211 yards rushing, 94 yards receiving and 53 on kick returns set a school record for combined yards in a game with 358, and some of those yards were simply spectacular.
  • Ohio State QB J. T. Barrett threw five touchdown passes in the first half of the Buckeyes’ 54-21 win over UNLV. Let’s see if that got him untracked when the competition gets a bit tougher.

Looking ahead there don’t seem to be any really big games in the conference until Michigan visits Penn State on October 21. There are six conference games next week, and only one does not have a clear favorite, but those are the games that can wreck the season of a contender if they don’t take care of business.

Nebraska visits Illinois Friday night in a game that is likely to be close if not pretty. I believe the Cornhuskers are still clearly a better team than the Illini and will be able to post a road win before they face back-to-back games with Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Maryland travels to Minnesota and I have no idea what to expect from the Terrapins. The Gophers are coming off a bye week (that didn’t seem to help Maryland) and have won three non-conference games so far. It would be surprising to see a Terrapin win here, especially without Hill. Even with injuries, however, Maryland needs to show they can compete a LOT better than they did against Central Florida.

Iowa travels to Michigan State, and we’ll see if the Hawkeye’s suffer a letdown after coming up one play short of an upset win over Penn State. This is a critical game for Michigan State. After last year’s 3-9 collapse, their confidence level can’t be very high after a 20-point loss at home to Notre Dame. With a trip to Michigan coming the following week, they could be heading down that same road again with a loss on Saturday.

In my pre-season previews, I thought the Northwestern-Wisconsin game coming up Saturday could be very interesting. That was before I actually saw Northwestern play, after which I’m not so sure. I don’t expect the Badgers to stumble at home, and Northwestern will again be in the position of having to overcome a slow start to a season.

Indiana travels to Penn State and Ohio State visits Rutgers. I would expect comfortable wins for Penn State and Ohio State, keeping them on a collision course to fight it out for a spot in the conference championship game. Then again, Michigan looks like they will still need to be reckoned with.

BIG Notes

Maryland’s men’s soccer team played to another exciting (?) scoreless draw vs. Michigan State. The Terps are #1 and #3 in the two national polls, while Michigan State #6 and #1, kind of an odd gap there. Both teams as well as Indiana remain undefeated, while Ohio State has only one loss and is on a streak of six consecutive shutouts. Boy, people used to complain that BIG basketball was low scoring.

It was kind of jarring to turn off the Maryland game Saturday and flip over to the Nebraska game. After seeing shots of empty seats all afternoon, there were nearly 90,000 fans in Lincoln (their 357th consecutive sellout going back to 1962). I said to my wife “THAT’S what college football looks like.” Yes, as a Maryland fan this time of year, I am envious of the huge, passionate crowds Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan draw every week. Adding to it this week were the crowds at Iowa (66,205) and Purdue (60,042). I know that turns around in basketball season, but still…

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.

Will there be any surprises next week? If I knew that, they wouldn’t be surprises now would they silly? I’ll look back, look forward and, if things don’t go well for the Terps in Minnesota, remind you that basketball season starts November 10 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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