As we await word on Beanie, let's take a look at how the Big Ten fared this weekend. You'll remember my pleas for solidarity as I was hoping the conference would take advantage of some of its marquee out-of-conference games to earn a little street cred infusion.
The early games all went as planned with the Buckeyes taking care of YSU, Penn State dropping 66 on Coastal Carolina, Indiana and Kellen Lewis smacking Western Kentucky, Iowa dropping Maine 46-3 and even Northwestern blowing out a pretty bad Syracuse. All games that were expected beat-downs and to their credit, there were no upsets, let alone close games for the Big Ten teams.
Wisconsin was close with Akron at the half (17-10), but put some distance between themselves and the Zips by outscoring them 21-7 in the final half. Evridge may not be a quarterback that can win a game yet, but when Hill is rolling (210 yards on the ground, 8.1 average), this Badger team will be tough to beat.
A 6-0 start for the Big Ten. My master plan was working.
And then the Wolverines took to the field. I can't put into words the feeling I got trying to cheer on a hapless rival that didn't seem to be able to do anything well. The forecast among the faithful is rightfully gloomy. Nick Sheridan is a disaster at quarterback and Threet is not much better. The running game was embarrassing, the line was atrocious (think they miss Boren?) and the score could have been much worse had Utah not done it's best to hand the game back. Rodriguez started the wrong guy, made a really questionable call and refused halftime interviews -- quite the awe-inspiring start to his era at Michigan.
The good news is that I discovered that rooting for an awful Michigan team is a win-win in the end. If they win, they do the conference good and if they lose, hey, it's still a Wolverine loss.
Minnesota then gave the conference a real scare on the way to a last-second victory over mighty Northern Illinois. The Gophers, playing at home, scored on a 4th and goal from the one yard line with 22 seconds left to double Tim Brewster's career victory total. They're going to be bad -- especially that secondary. They will probably lose next weekend at Bowling Green, but thankfully, their next two opponents are Montana State and Florida Atlantic. Certainly not gimmes, but no visit to Florida or anything.
The two night games figured to give the Big Ten its best shot to snatch back some respectability. Michigan State traveled to Cal for a little Big Ten/Pac-10 showdown, while the Illini went to St. Louis to try and exact some revenge from Missouri.
The Spartans found themselves behind early on after Cal blocked a punt and took it in for six. From there, it was Michigan State scoring to close the gap with Cal quickly scoring again to keep (or enlarge) the lead. Michigan State had a chance to tie the game as the clock was winding down, but stalled at midfield. The final series out of Hoyer was one of the more terrible passing exhibitions I've seen. He did finish with 321 yards in the air, but when you consider he was only 20/48 with one touchdown and one (could have been three) interceptions, the numbers aren't that impressive. Ringer was held largely in check with only 81 yards on 27 carries, though he did score two touchdowns.
The Illinois/Missouri game played out in a similar manner. After playing to a seven-all tie at the end of the first quarter, the Tigers put up 24 second quarter points to take a 31-14 halftime lead. Juice (451 yards, 5 touchdowns through the air) tried to rally the Illini back, throwing for four second half touchdowns, but whenever he's close the gap, the Missouri offense would march right back down the field and score. The nail in the coffin was a 35-yard pick-six on Juice with 3:18 left in the game. The 52-42 final was not as close as even that appears as the Illini scored a garbage touchdown with no time on the clock.
So, the conference finished 7-3 opening weekend, with an 0-3 mark in games against what you could consider stiff competition. Not exactly the result we wanted to see, but just how bad are those teams that lost? An argument could be made that the one touchdown loss by the Spartans was expected. The Bears were ranked ahead of the Spartans in just about every type of poll out there and when you toss in the handful of points that come with the home field advantage, it's not quite the end of the world. Certainly not the waxing the Volunteers took in Berkeley a few seasons ago.
The same could be said for Illinois and Michigan. The Illini were ranked 22nd in the Blogopll, while Mizzou was ranked 6th. Ten points on a neutral fields sounds about right for that pairing. Now, the Wolverines are terrible, but they should get better. The score in their game could certainly have been a lot worse, but I doubt anyone would have been shocked on Thursday if you had told them that the Utes would escape Ann Arbor with a two-point win.
In a nutshell, I'd say the play of the conference was just kind of "meh". The Big Ten did itself no favors by losing all three of its big week one games, but at the same time, none of the losses will further erode the conference's reputation. And hey, at least it's not the ACC.