Big Ten Chumps (Cont.)

It’s bad enough that a 7-5 Wisconsin team won the “Big Ten Championship” game.  It’s bad enough that Nebraska, the other team in the “Big Ten Championship” game, gave up 70 points in getting crushed by Wisconsin.  It’s bad enough that the Ohio State Buckeyes, the best team in the conference, weren’t playing.  But the crowning indignity is that Wisconsin’s head coach, Bret Bielema, is now reportedly bolting the Big Ten for Arkansas and the SEC.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I don’t think that Bielema, the former Badgers coach who now reportedly will be leading the Razorbacks, is a great football coach.  He won or tied for the lead in the Big Ten three times — at least, according to the conference title game organizers — but I never thought he matched up well, in terms of coaching or recruiting ability, against Ohio State or other premier college programs.  Bielema always had a squinty, slack-jawed look on his face, seemed overmatched in in-game coaching contests, and rarely won the big games.  If Arkansas thinks they are getting a great coach, they may well be mistaken.

No, what’s embarrassing is that the “Big Ten Championship” coach is skedaddling the conference to go to a marginal team in the SEC.  Arkansas apparently was willing to pay him a lot more money than Wisconsin would shell out, and perhaps Wisconsin’s discretion in that regard is wise.  Still, if winning coaches are bolting for a second-division team in a different conference, what does it tell you about the Big Ten?

Big Ten Chumps

Tonight the Nebraska Cornhuskers play the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game.  It’s a bit of a nightmare scenario for the conference.

https://i0.wp.com/www.waitingfornextyear.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/bo.jpgNebraska is not a bad team.  They’re 10-2 and have only lost one game in the conference — although it was a crushing loss, a 63-38 spanking at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Wisconsin, on the other hand, is a different story.  The Badgers are 7-5 overall, and only 4-4 in the conference.  Wisconsin lost three of its last four games, all in overtime.

Wisconsin is not a bad team, either — but what does it tell you when a .500 team in the conference makes it to the championship game and has the chance to play in the Rose Bowl?  The reason, of course, is that undefeated Ohio State, easily the best team in the Big Ten, isn’t eligible to play due to NCAA sanctions.

https://i2.wp.com/media.scout.com/Media/Image/60/608537.jpgNot surprisingly, there’s not a lot of interest in the game.  Many tickets are for sale at a steep discount from face value, and organizers are expecting a number of empty seats.  I’m confident that the Rose Bowl organizers, too, are holding their breath and hoping that Nebraska wins, so the Granddaddy of all bowl games doesn’t feature a team that barely has a winning record.

I’m sure the Badgers will play their hardest and will be proud to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl if they win.  I’d feel that way if I were a Badger, too, but for the rest of us Big Ten fans this game is an embarrassment.  It’s a pathetic conclusion to a year that — thanks to the sanctions imposed on Ohio State and Penn State, weak teams, a less-than-stellar out of conference record, and uninspired play by teams like Michigan State that were expected to be powerhouses — has been an embarrassment for the storied Big Ten conference.

Big Ten, Big Money, Big Changes

This week the Big Ten announced that, beginning in 2014, Rutgers and Maryland will join the conference.  That will bring the number of schools to 14 — and many people think the Big Ten is likely to add two more teams to end up at an even 16, with two eight-team divisions.  The pundits are talking about North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia Tech, and other schools as potential candidates.

One of the traditional Ohio State fight songs — Across the Field — ends with the line “so let’s win that old conference now.”   Thanks to Commissioner Jim Delany, it’s not the old conference anymore.  With the addition of Nebraska, and now Rutgers and Maryland, what used to be a northern, Midwestern conference now stretches from Nebraska to the Atlantic Ocean and from northern Minnesota to below the Mason-Dixon line.  Everyone knows, too, that the expansion is all about money.  The Big Ten wants access to the New York City and Washington, D.C. TV and fan base markets and believes that adding Rutgers and Maryland will provide that access.  Rutgers and Maryland are joining because they will get far more money from the Big Ten than they would from the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.

What does it mean for Big Ten fans?  Sure, it means Big Ten teams will play schools who aren’t traditional powerhouses or traditional rivals — but Ohio State already does that, with its preseason schedule and with perennial Big Ten doormats like Indiana.  Rutgers and Maryland may not be top 20 football programs, but neither are most of the teams the Buckeyes play in their “pre-season” schedule.  If the addition of more teams means that the Big Ten schedule gets extended  and Ohio State loses a few games against the likes of San Diego State, I’m not going to cry about it.  The only problem I would have is if expansion causes Ohio State to not play Michigan every year, or puts the Buckeyes in a division featuring a bunch of new eastern teams.

What does this mean for college football?  I wonder how, with everyone chasing the almighty dollar, NCAA members can continue the pretense that college athletics is just about sacred concepts of amateur competition.  College football and, to a lesser extent, college basketball generate huge amounts of money — amounts so huge, in fact, that universities will abandon conferences they’ve belonged to for decades to get a bigger piece of the pie.  College football is saturated with TV money, product tie-ins, merchandising deals, sponsors, and other revenue generators.

So how can the NCAA justify suspending student-athletes who (in the recent case involving Ohio State) sell memorabilia for a few thousand dollars or a few free tattoos?  At some point, will someone choke on the hypocrisy?

Big Red Butt-Kicking

Well, now . . . that was quite a performance, wasn’t it?  I’m guessing the Nebraska fans who came to Ohio Stadium won’t soon forget their first visit to the Horseshoe.

After a lackluster first quarter, the Buckeyes roared back and blew out the Cornhuskers, 63-38.  Sometimes one play can turn a game around, and in this case it was a long run by Braxton Miller that set up the score that allowed Ohio State to close to 17-14.  After that, it was off to the races.  Ohio State scored 28 points in the second quarter to go into halftime with a 35-24 lead, and then kept their foot on the accelerator in the second half to score another 28 points and pull away. The Buckeyes are now 6-0 and are likely to move into the top ten.

The Nebraska defense that seemed so stout in the first quarter was eventually beaten to a bloody pulp by the Ohio State offensive line, which came to dominate the line of scrimmage.  Somewhere, Woody Hayes is smiling at a box score that showed Ohio State with 368 yards on the ground, six rushing touchdowns, and two 100-yard rushers.

There’s still room for improvement — in particular, I’d love to see better tackling by the Ohio State defense — but there is no doubt this was an impressive win against a pretty good team.  It hurt Nebraska when Rex Burkhead was injured and had to leave the game, but the key to the contest was that the Nebraska defense simply could not stop the Buckeyes.  Even as the game wound down, and it was obvious that Ohio State would try to run the ball and keep the clock moving, Nebraska could not halt the Buckeye ground game.  That single fact tells you a lot about how your offensive line is firing off the ball and knocking the defense off the line of scrimmage.

Nebraska fans, I sincerely hope you enjoyed your visit to Columbus — but I’m glad the Buckeyes dished out a butt-kicking.

Under The Lights At The Horseshoe

It’s a special day today, because the Nebraska Cornhuskers visit Ohio Stadium for the first time since the Big Red became members of the Big Ten.

What will make the game extra special is that it is under the lights at the Old Horseshoe.  Ohio Stadium is a classic, storied college football venue — you can’t walk into the Stadium without feeling the history sunk deep into the turf, the concrete rows and ramps up to B and C decks, and the pillars with their Block O capstones — but it becomes an especially spectacular place for a football game under the lights.  The Stadium itself is brightly lit, and the crowd is lit, too.

The tailgaters will have been out for hours, guzzling beers, spanking down tailgate food, and getting pumped for the game.  That additional tailgating time, and fact that the night games usually are big games against ranked teams, means that the Ohio Stadium crowd is much more raucous when darkness falls.  It’s a lot easier to scream your brains out when you’ve lubricated those vocal cords with a six-pack or a few warming toddies.  I’m hoping that tonight’s crowd is in full-throated frenzy and geared up to give Nebraska an especially loud and proud Ohio Stadium welcome to the Big Ten.

It should be an interesting match-up on the field, too.  Last year, Ohio State jumped out to a surprisingly large lead in Lincoln, then Nebraska shredded the Buckeye defense in the second half and pulled off an historic comeback.  It was an embarrassing performance by the Ohio State defense.  I’m hoping that the D uses last year’s game as motivation and comes out ready to play, because Nebraska has a powerful offense led by the arm and feet of quarterback Taylor Martinez.  If Ohio State is going to win this game, its defense needs to control the line of scrimmage and control Martinez’s scrambling.  Of course, the Buckeye defense has been used to facing Braxton Miller in practice, so they presumably should be well drilled in containment.

When I came back to Columbus yesterday, I saw a Nebraska fan in full regalia at Port Columbus.  I said hello, welcomed him to the Big Ten, wished him a fun time during his visit to Columbus, and then said I hoped the Buckeyes stomped the Cornhuskers tonight.  I meant every word.

Big Win To Start The Big Ten

I didn’t get to see most of yesterday’s Ohio State win over Michigan State — I was at a wedding, thank you very much — but that doesn’t mean I can’t savor the sweet taste of a hard-fought and much-needed Big Ten triumph.

Michigan State clearly is one of the better teams in the Big Ten, so any victory over the Spartans is one to be prized.  Beating the Spartans in front of the Michigan State faithful is so much the better.  Ohio State’s defense played its best game of the season — holding Michigan State to 34 yards on the ground makes a serious statement — and the offense played well enough to somehow overcome three turnovers.  How often do you see a team lose the turnover battle, 3-0, on the road, and still pick up a win?

That reality, in fact, might be the ultimate story of this game.  Last year, Ohio State found ways to lose games they should have won.  Yesterday they found a way to hang on to a win that easily could have been a loss.  Winning breeds winning attitudes, and winning attitudes and confidence breed more victories.  Now, if Ohio State could just figure out how to hold on to the football. . . .

The Buckeyes will need to make every possession count next weekend, when Nebraska comes to town for a night game at the Horseshoe, fresh off a come-from-behind home win over a Wisconsin team that let a big lead melt away.  (Sound familiar, Buckeye fans?)

Hearty Buckeye thanks to Mike N., who went to yesterday’s game, for taking the photo of the scoreboard shot that accompanies this post.

The Little Big Ten

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.