The Big Ten Gets Underway

The Big Ten looks like it is in for a very interesting year.  After one week of conference play, there are a few surprises.  Four Big Ten teams — Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Ohio State — haven’t lost a game this season, and two other teams, Iowa and Wisconsin, are 4-1.

Denard Robinson

It seems odd to say that an undefeated Michigan team is a surprise; after all, Michigan is the winningest college football team of all time.  Denard Robinson, however, can only be said to have put up shocking numbers on offense.  His extraordinary output has allowed Michigan to overcome what appears to be a pretty weak defense and keep the wolves (or perhaps Wolverines) from the door of beleaguered coach Rich Rodriguez.  Michigan State — particularly its win over preseason Big Ten favorite Wisconsin — also has been a surprise.  We’ll find out soon enough which team can keep it up; the Wolverines and the Spartans play each other this week at The Big House in Ann Arbor.

At the other end of the league, Minnesota’s bad start may have finally made Golden Gopher supporters rue the day Glen Mason got fired.  Penn State fans have to be disappointed in their offense, which has struggled to score points and been held to a field goal apiece by Alabama and Iowa.  Indiana, which comes to the Horseshoe to play Ohio State this week, is almost Penn State’s exact opposite.  The Hoosiers have scored points in bunches behind a passing attack that currently ranks fourth in the nation, but it has given up points in bunches, too.  Denard Robinson took advantage of that propensity to pull out a last-second win last week.

College football is a lot of fun to watch, and the Big Ten this year is especially unpredictable.

Big Lift For Big Ten Basketball

The Big Ten is feeling pretty good about basketball these days.  With three teams — Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue — in the Sweet 16, the Big Ten has more teams still in contention than any other conference.  For a moment, at least, the Big Ten has quieted critics who say that the league pales in comparison to the Big East or the ACC, that Big Ten teams play a boring, bruising style that is not attractive to fans or talented players, and that Big Ten teams underperform in big games.

I’m not sure that you can conclude that the Big Ten was the strongest conference this year based on its performance in the NCAA Tournament, any more than you can argue that the league has sucked in the past based on prior tournament disappointments.  The NCAA Tournament often boils down to individual team match-ups that don’t allow for sweeping conclusions about entire leagues.  Still, it is gratifying for the Big Ten teams to perform well in the spotlight, and particularly meaningful because Michigan State and Purdue overcame significant injuries in winning their games to advance.

The reality is that the Big Ten plays good, solid basketball and features a number of tough, hard-nosed players who don’t quit.  The fact that most Big Ten teams score in the 50s and 60s, and not in the 70s and 80s, does not detract from the high level of play and fine coaching.  Perhaps, with this NCAA Tournament, basketball fans outside the Midwest are starting to realize that.