Based on what happened on the field on Saturday, it looks like we can get ready for another long year of Big Ten-bashing. Though very few teams (if any) could have stepped on the field at the Coliseum and stayed with USC, it's Ohio State who dared to try and it came at a time when the conference in general and the Buckeyes in particular had precious little goodwill in the bank.
USC completely shut down the OSU running game, as the visitors netted only 71 yards on the ground. As good as Chris Wells is, that also means the Trojans were winning the battle up front. A combination of how bad the loss was, on top of the political environment this year, means Tressel has no shot at a third straight BCS title game appearance. In spite of his past success, gratitude can run cold in a hurry. Ray Stein of The Columbus Dispatch checks his mailbag and reports fan anger at the coaching staff.
Michigan turned in an embarrassing performance at Notre Dame. As I sat on the couch at my niece's birthday party watching the game with relatives, I could only note that both teams played down to their reputation. For two proud programs, it was a very poor display of football. While Charlie Weis is in no position to turn any kind of name victory away, it's appropriate that the defining feature of this rain-soaked game was six UM turnovers.
On the upside, Wisconsin came up with a clutch win at Fresno State. A rock-'em, sock-'em defensive battle was decided by 112 rushing yards from P.J. Hill and a key fumble recovery on a punt. It was a win that sets the Badgers up to make a splash on the national stage. But even granting the Bulldogs all their respect (which they have earned), the harsh reality is that the Big Ten's signature moment of 2008 has been a three-point win over a non-BCS school. We're settling into conference play in a couple weeks, so any chances at restoring the league's reputation nationwide are pretty well done, but hopefully things will improve by bowl season.
We'll look at the Big Ten's three big games of this past Saturday in more detail in a subsequent post, before jumping into next week's previews.
Iowa rose up and turned in an excellent defensive performance, and was able to pull away with two fourth quarter touchdowns in securing a 17-5 win over Iowa State. An 81-yard punt return by Andy Brodell was the killer blow. Out east, Penn State put the hammer on Syracuse 55-13. This lopsided game featured a 560-159 yardage advantage. The Nittany Lions join Wisconsin as the one team entering league competition still in position to make its mark on the national title race.
Purdue suffered a disappointing loss to Oregon. While not as hyped as USC-Ohio State, this was the tougher blow of the games between Big Ten & Pac-10 schools. Purdue was at home against a good, but beatable team and had a 20-3 lead in the first half. They were also close to getting the winning touchdown in the first overtime before settling for a tying field goal, and ultimately defeat in the second extra session. The run defense was the principal culprit, as the Ducks ran all over West Lafayette for 306 yards.
In the games against no-name competition, Illinois' problems were another harbinger of trouble in the conference overall. The Illini barely escaped with a 20-17 win over Louisiana-Lafayette at home. 96 yards of penalties didn't help. And Minnesota had its hands full with Montana State before prevailing 35-23.
Northwestern beat Southern Illinois 33-7 behind another good outing from Tyrell Sutton. But it was another back who was the star of the day in the low-profile games. Javon Ringer racked up 282 yards on 43 carries against Florida International. Ringer is shaping up as a lead figure in the conference MVP race, and it will be interesting to see what he does next week when Notre Dame comes to town.