Is it basketball season yet? That’s the question many Big Ten fans might be asking themselves after a Saturday devastating to their hopes and conference image.
Of course some fans are doing something about it. They are going out and hiring private investigators to dig into conspiracy theories such as:
Who is replacing all of Michigan’s top recruits with vastly inferior doubles and how are they doing it? Was the Michigan State team drugged after going up 27-18 on Oregon? Did someone put out a bounty on Ohio State’s Braxton Miller going into fall camp? Did McNeese State dress SEC players for its game against Nebraska?
For Michigan maybe the weekend stung the most, and for Brady Hoke the 31-0 loss to Notre Dame cranks up the hot seat to hellfire should he lose to Michigan State and Ohio State later in the year. It’s arguably Michigan’s worst loss under a coach not named Rich Rodriguez since before Bo Schembechler, and Hoke’s teams can’t seem to figure out how to beat a ranked opponent on the road.
On the bright side, the offense did move the ball more than the final score showed and the defense also played better than the final as well. Nevertheless, is the third time the charm for Les Miles?
Of the teams that lost, maybe Ohio State has the best excuse. After all, until three weeks ago they were planning on having three-year starter Braxton Miller starting at quarterback, not freshman J.T. Barrett. So it is at least understandable that a Virginia Tech defense could slow them down.
Michigan State too, was competitive into the second half against a National Championship contender in Oregon before eventually falling 46-27. The Spartans just won the coveted Rose Bowl in January and get a chance at redemption against Oregon next year at home. Plus, they are still the clear favorite to win the Big Ten for a second year.
Even better for the Spartans, the schedule gets much easier. They play five of the next seven at home and their two road trips in that span stay close to home in Indiana.
Nebraska, well, they won and since they aren’t really a likely candidate for the playoff, style points don’t really matter. The bigger issue for them is their schedule going forward will be much tougher and includes road games at Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin. None of those will be easy games to win for the Huskers as they try to make it back to the Big Ten Championship game.
To help these teams out, as well as the rest of their Big Ten brothers, I would like to suggest some support groups for them.
Michigan and Nebraska need to get together for a weekly Nineties Nostalgia Night on Sundays. There they can remember everything that used to be great in the world, like their teams, and relive their magical 1997 seasons. The highlight reels and debates over who deserved the National Championship should take away some of the sting of recent years, and their Saturdays.
Michigan State and Ohio State can get together and realize that maybe things aren’t so bad after all. All they need to is look at the Michigan final score and take joy in that and also knowing they are likely still in position to fight each other for the Big Ten. If that doesn’t work they can argue whose 6-1 record against Michigan in the past seven years is more impressive.
Maryland and Rutgers are another obvious pair, their athletic departments gathered together lamenting the woeful conference they joined – until they glance down at their Champaign and caviar and smile, knowing they did themselves a favor.
Iowa and Penn State can celebrate defense and a capable passing game and their ability to help the two teams limp to 2-0 despite not having a rusher gain more than 62 yards for those two games combined.
Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota can plan their campaign for respect. After all, they are undefeated despite not having been picked to contend for their divisions.
Northwestern and Purdue can bemoan the strength of MAC opponents and talk about other things they’re good at, like science.
If you’ve been keeping count you’ll notice that poor Wisconsin got left out. In a perfect world they could fit in with Michigan State and Ohio State, except they really don’t like those teams and aren’t quite as obsessed with beating Michigan.
Joining Michigan and Nebraska wouldn’t last either as they would soon bore of hearing about 1997. They might try to change the conversation to 1998 when they went 11-1 and had Ron Dayne lead them to a Rose Bowl victory, but all Michigan would do is talk about their victory over Wisconsin that year and maybe Tom Brady before complaining about Big Ten tie breaker rules and going back to 1997.
Ultimately, Wisconsin might find a home with Iowa and Penn State, teams roughly on their level. They could talk about defense and then try to trade rushing secrets for passing ones, something that might help a lot considering their passing offense is ranked 108th.
To wrap things up, the weekend may haunt the conference in terms of perception, but it is nothing the teams and conference can’t recover from, especially if – hold your breath – the Big Ten has a decent bowl season.
If I had to pick a winner at this point I would go with Michigan State over Wisconsin in the championship game, but at this point I really think a playoff spot is a longshot for whoever comes out on top. Maybe next year, Big Ten.