Monday, October 31, 2011

Big Ten Football = Not Good

One of the things that gets cast aside once my attention span gets dominated by college hockey is college football.

I love college football, but the fact that we still don't have a likable system to decide a major-college champion is a problem, and it doesn't help that the Big Ten is basically a non-competitive entity in the sport.

If that hadn't been proven beyond a doubt before this weekend, things that happened Saturday only underscored the problems this league is having right now.

We know who the top Big Ten teams are in football. Nebraska, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and probably either Michigan or Ohio State are the top five. What we didn't know is how far this upper tier is from being a legitimate contender nationally.

The only one of the group -- Wisconsin -- that had even a prayer of a BCS title shot blew it the last two weekends. How did they blow it?

Well, I'm glad you asked. Against Michigan State, in Wisconsin's first true road game of the season, the Badgers jumped to a 14-0 lead, fell behind 31-17 with a bunch of third-down screw-ups on defense, special teams bloopers, and two Russell Wilson interceptions. The Badgers then tied the score thanks to two great drives led by Wilson. And then Michigan State scored on a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game. While three Badgers stood and watched, Kurt Nichol caught a deflected pass, then leaned into the end zone.

As if that wasn't gut-wrenching enough, Wisconsin went to Columbus Saturday, jumped to another early lead, and then went through a similar comedy of errors in falling behind 26-14 in the fourth quarter. Wilson led them back again, and Wisconsin took a 29-26 lead into the final minute. Then Ohio State got a 40-yard score in the last 30 seconds. Buckeyes win 33-29. Ugh.

This isn't about blame. The Badgers aren't good enough, and haven't been good enough for years. They prove it when they go on the road to play good, but inferior, teams.

(No disrespect intended here. But I'm sorry. Ohio State and Michigan State aren't as good as Wisconsin, and never should have been in position to win those games. It's a symptom of a problem for Wisconsin.)

And if Wisconsin -- with the mercenary quarterback, stout running game, and somewhat decent defense -- isn't good enough to win a national title out of the Big Ten, there's no hope.

Nebraska is decent, but got blown out at Wisconsin a month ago, and it's not like that was an accident. Michigan State and Ohio State are good teams, but MSU had no chance Saturday in Lincoln, and tOSU wasn't good enough to beat middling Miami. Or Michigan State. Michigan lost to Michigan State, and the quarterback is hardly consistent with his throws, but they're good, and they should be good enough to end their tOSU losing streak later in November.

Penn State may have lost convincingly to Alabama, but that's no crime. What is a crime is that they still only have that one loss, despite an offense that makes the phrase "sets football back 40 years" seem like an understatement. Did you watch that Illinois game? My word. I knew Illinois wasn't that good, but that was one of the worst football games you'll see all season.

Who's coming out of this league? Probably Nebraska at this rate. And what chance will Nebraska have against Oregon or Stanford or whoever else in the Rose Bowl? Probably not very much.

This is the state of Big Ten football. On the outside looking in.

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