Today the Big Ten kicks off league play. It should be a competitive conference race, because the Big Ten clearly doesn’t have any powerhouse teams this year.
The results of pre-conference play were not kind to the teams in the Old Conference. Michigan got pulverized by Alabama and then played badly in a loss to Notre Dame. Wisconsin lost to Oregon State and has struggled mightily against mediocre teams like Utah State and UNLV. Pre-season favorites Michigan State and Nebraska have fallen from the ranks of the unbeaten, with the Spartans getting pounded by Notre Dame and the Cornhuskers dropping a winnable game to UCLA. Iowa, Penn State, and Illinois already have two defeats. Minnesota is undefeated, but hasn’t played anybody. The best team in the conference could be Northwestern, which has knocked off Syracuse, Vanderbilt, and Boston College.
The marquee games today are Wisconsin at Nebraska and Ohio State at Michigan State. The Badgers will be trying to get their offense back on track against a Nebraska defense that was dismal in its only game against a tough foe. The Ohio State-Michigan State contest is intriguing because MSU handed OSU an embarrassing home loss last year, when the Spartans manhandled the Buckeye offense. Ohio State is undefeated, but it has played mediocre football against inferior teams and hasn’t played a road game yet. The tilt in East Lansing today will tell us a lot about whether Ohio State is competitive — and also whether Braxton Miller can weave his offensive magic against a very stout defense.
Thanks to NCAA penalties, Ohio State can’t play in a bowl game or the Big Ten conference championship game this year. If the team wants to make something of this lost year, it needs to win games like today’s match-up.