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College Teams Mon Oct 03 2011

Big Ten Football: Judgment Cometh

Thumbnail image for big ten divisions vertical.JPGThe Big Ten season is upon us, and already parity is starting to manifest itself as something more like parody. The whole "College Gameday" crew and some 30,000 Nebraska fans were duped into thinking Saturday night's game at Camp Randall would be a marquee event worth the trip to Wisconsin, while Michigan State and Ohio State squared off in what everyone thought would be competitive, but not for the fact that neither team could score effectively.

Meanwhile, the weekend's best game came from Champaign, where two conference has-beens (or, never-weres) continued their hot starts in a barnburner. Michigan did likewise in a rout, but there's only one team that has asserted its dominance on an irrefutable level. That doesn't bode well for the conference writ large and its collective bowl-game aspirations.

And so now the conference is put in a position where each team is gunning after the golden pig. But with the Big Ten intent on staying put during the recent conference realignment hullabaloo, that pig might also be the conference's only shot at retaining national legitimacy while the lower-tiered squads go on spinning their wheels in rebuilding mode.

Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17

The good news for Nebraska is they don't have to play against the Badgers every week. The Cornhuskers' introduction to the Big Ten was a rude awakening to the 30,000-some Nebraska fans who made the trek to Madison for the game. Taylor Martinez's hot start to the season came to an abrupt end, in completing only 11 of 22 passes for 176 yards and three interceptions. In 20 rushes, Martinez racked up just 61 yards and one touchdown. Tailback Rex Burkhead fared slightly better, compiling 96 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

But the real story here is the Badgers. They abused Nebraska on both sides of the ball. Their mammoth fronts re-established the line of scrimmage when and where they wanted, and Russell Wilson continued to pick apart defenses. The surging Heisman hopeful threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another.

Maybe the scariest thing about this game is that Nebraska was supposed to be the Badgers' most worthy adversary. This contest was supposed to mark the beginning of a long and brutal exchange in which two heavyweights would repeatedly compete to see which team was more BCS-worthy. Instead, we watched a group of men dismantle a team of boys with ease. And now the Badgers have to find some way to motivate themselves to continue playing at this high of a level against a schedule of inferior opponents.

Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7

This game looked a lot more appealing a few months ago. The Buckeyes have struggled to fill the holes left by a string of suspensions and early exits to the NFL, and the Spartans have succumbed to a number of untimely turnovers that made veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins seem like a forgettable commodity. So instead of two Big Ten contenders jostling for pole position in this week's contest, it was a matchup of two solid programs just vying for a chance to remain relevant in the conversation of the conference's elite.

And despite three more turnovers, the Spartans overmatched the Buckeyes. Aside from a last-minute touchdown pass, the Buckeye offense was ineffective. Both of these teams have enough veteran leadership that you have to expect they'll pull it together soon enough. But where things stand right now, this game was fairly ugly on both sides.

Illinois 38, Northwestern 35

And really, this ended up being the matchup we expected of two legitimate Big Ten threats. Northwestern stormed to a 28-10 lead in the third quarter behind quarterback Dan Persa's resurgence from a torn Achilles' tendon he suffered last year. But Persa took himself out of the game after possibly re-aggravating it, and the feisty Illini climbed all the way back. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth.

It was a lot of back-and-forth and a flurry of sloppy hustle toward the end, but these teams aren't afraid of high-pressure situations. With Michigan State and Ohio State struggling to keep it together, it'll be fun to watch how Northwestern and Illinois can muck up the rest of the field in the Big Ten.

Michigan 58, Minnesota 0

At some point we'll have to accept that the Wolverines are a very good team. They've proven capable of running up the score on most anyone, but let's not get ahead of ourselves on this one. This season, the Gophers are about as bad as they come. Michigan will have other chances to prove their offense is sustainable.

Penn State 16, Indiana 10

Too close for comfort. Indiana is not exactly a sleeper special -- they've lost to both Ball State and North Texas this season -- and I think we all had higher hopes for Penn State than this. If they complete less than 50 percent of their passes on the road against the Hoosiers, just imagine when they have to travel to play a team that can actually play.

Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10

Notre Dame finished 2-1 against the Big Ten. Michael Floyd had 137 receiving yards and a touchdown, while the Boilermakers stood by and watched. Notre Dame finally looks like they've gotten their act together. Purdue also looks to be in mid-season form.

Next week

Ohio State starts scratching and clawing its way back to relevance against No. 14 Nebraska, and Northwestern tries to knock Michigan back down to earth.

 
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