The Alcoholics Anonymous definition of insanity is succinct and fairly accurate: “repeating the same action over and over again, hoping to achieve different results”. Could there be a more apt description of what is going on in the B1G right now? The traditional powerhouses of the conference are going out onto the field every weekend, over and over again, each thinking this will be the week that the B1G rises back to national...prominence isn't the right word. Respectability is probably too strong. Relevance is probably the best word because, right now, the B1G has never been less relevant to the college football world.
We've covered this in this space before, how bad this year's crop of teams has been in the last few weeks. This last week, despite more wins than the week before, only one team, Nebraska, looked like it wasn't trying to give their coaches and fans heart attacks (mostly kidding, Mark Dantonio). There's parity in the conference though, in that all of the teams, including our beloved Buckeyes are all somewhere on the scale from mediocre to just plain bad, with holes dotting each and every part of each and every team.
Where is the B1G as conference play begins? Jump in, the water's awful.
After Central Michigan beat Iowa in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, my timeline started filling with tweets about Kirk Ferentz's annual salary. He makes a lot of money each year, literally $3 million more than the Dean of his school. The Iowa program, which had been a consistently on or near the top of the B1G over the last decade, hit as close to rock bottom as a loss to a mid-table MAC team can make one hit. Some are calling for his head in Iowa City, some for the head of his boss, but most just want the Iowa team that went 9-0 in one-possession games from 2002-2004 back on the field. That's the talent and level of play expected, but seldom delivered by Iowa recently, and by the B1G annually.
If Iowa was the B1G's downfall of the afternoon, then the school up North were the sacrificial lambs in prime time. Whether or not Notre Dame is BACK or just hitting the ground running against sub-par competition (I have no clue which, by the way), the performance of Michigan's offense on Saturday night was beyond horrendous. In 10 drives, only four had neutral or positive results. Six drives ended in turnovers. This year's version, which has been an offensive shootout the last few years, was a defensive slug-fest, with Notre Dame doing far more, and looking very much like the better team. Michigan could have - should have - been able to win this game. But if you turn the ball over six times, Its fait accompli: you will lose, and you will look bad doing it.
Even in wins, it's still a bleak outlook for the B1G. Michigan State, who was supposed to be one of the standard bearers of the conference with Penn State and Ohio State taking NCAA-mandated year(s) off, beat Eastern Michigan. And they did it a lot uglier than the 23-7 score would indicate. Taking a look inside the guts of the game reveals a one-and-a-half dimensional team, wholly reliant on Heisman trophy
hopeful onlooker Le'Veon Bell to compete. Sparty got 55 yards on nine catches against a bottom five defense. We knew there would be questions about the Michigan State offense this year, and that their stout defense would keep things competitive in every game. But the questions for Sparty are huge, and when you can't put more than a field goal on Notre Dame, you could have Alabama's defense and you're still going to lose. This week, Sparty dodged a bullet against EMU. Is there a more depressing B1G sentence?
The conference-wide problems are not going to be solved quickly, and thinking they will be is Quixotic at best, and beyond stupid at worst. This year's out of conference slate proved that there are no automatic wins for any team in the B1G - even Ohio State's 4-0 record was marked with a last second turnaround against Cal, and a far-too-close win over a dismal UAB squad. This is a conference with a possible Game of the Century featuring Northwestern and Minnesota. There is no panacea for this conference's woes, other than relying on the cyclical nature of college football to rear its ugly head as quickly as possible.
Until then, we sit, we wait, we watch, and, most unfortunately, we lose.
Big ups to Off Tackle Empire, Maize and Brew, Black Hearts Gold Pants, and The Only Colors for their superior writing and insights that added to this piece.