Ohio State is on a bye this week, which gives all of us a sad face. But that's okay, kids, because we had a lot of Big Ten action to help carry us through the weekend. We also had baseball playoff action going on...unless you're an Astros or Cubs fan. You gave up on the playoffs by Memorial Day, and were looking to Ohio State to help salve a wound that just won't heal. I'm sorry, but all I can offer you this week is the rest of the Big Ten. I hope you understand.
As we get to the halfway point for the Big Ten in conference play, a lot of things are coming in to focus. We have legitimate contenders, some legitimate frauds, and a few surprises. Ohio State still stands as the belle of the ball, but we've learned a lot about our conference over the last month and a half or so. When it's all said and done, everyone in the conference would like to make it to California, either in the BCS National Championship game or the Rose Bowl. And how you do in either game stays with you forever. Because in that regard, you can check out any time you like, but you can't ever really leave....can you, Mr Henley?
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device"
And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
"Relax, " said the night man,
"We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave"
Your SMR that smells like warm colitas follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Ohio State: There's only one undefeated team left in the Conference Of Delany, and it's the Buckeyes. You can gripe about their non-conference schedule, you can bitch about the strength of the rest of the conference, but Ohio State, at least through the halfway point, is better than anyone else in the Big Ten. They have an offense that hums with either the primary or backup quarterback, a punishing running game, and a defense that's just good enough to keep the opposing offense off the scoreboard. This is an imperfect team, and I have my doubts about them against a team like Alabama or Oregon, but there isn't a team in this conference that is as good as the Buckeyes right now.
Michigan State: there were a lot of questions about Michigan State's offense heading into the season, but the defense was thought to be legitimate. Both lived up to pre-season expectations early, but MSU's offense has come to life. After early season non conference struggles, to include a loss to Notre Dame, MSU found something on offense with QB Connor Cook, and they have become a legitimate contender. Yes, their offense is still somewhat inconsistent, but when you can field a defense like MSU has, it can carry you a long way. Does that mean all the way to Pasadena? We'll see, but I think they're the team to beat in the Legends Division at the half way point.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers started out a lot like MSU, only in reverse--no one really questioned how good their offense could be, but there were a lot of questions about the defense. When they got blown out at home by UCLA, after taking a 21-3 lead, most people thought the defense was just as fraudulent as ever. Bo Pelini came under fire for a leaked tape recording, and his epitaphs were being written all across the country. But a funny thing happened on the way to the gallows--Nebraska has remembered how to play defense in the last two weeks, and even with an injury to QB Taylor Martinez, Nebraska's offense is still a juggernaut on the ground with Ameer Abdullah. If their defense is legit, they might be better than MSU, but two weeks of solid output does not make a season. I think they might have found something, but I want to see a couple more games to make sure.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin rebounded quite well from a tough loss in Columbus by rolling what a lot of people thought might be this year's version of destiny's darlings. The Wisconsin dismantling of Northwestern was efficient and brutal, and reinforced the fact that the Badgers are a very good team on both sides of the ball. They've got an uphill climb to win the Leaders division and no longer control their own destiny, but if OSU slips up, Wisconsin will pounce. And no matter where they end up during bowl season, they'll give their opponent all they can handle.
Indiana: I'm not sure I want to live in a world where Indiana football is something you need to pay attention to. But Kevin Wilson is going to force me to pay attention, isn't he? ISN'T HE?? The Hoosiers have a big time offense--seriously, when you can put up 28 points on the Sparty defense, you're doing it right. HOWEVAH...the defense needs a little work. And by 'needs a little work', I mean Holy Crap is it bad. But it's better than last year, and if you are inclined to believe that Indiana can keep getting better on defense while maintaining their offensive production, you can talk me into Indiana making their way to the top half of the conference. I'm so 100% serious about this.
Penn State: Bill O'Brien is doing yeoman's work in Happy Valley, and to say Christian Hackenberg is the real deal would be an understatement. The Nittany Lions are still dealing with the fallout of a big senior class that left from last year and reduced scholarships, but there's something kind of cool going on in central Pennsylvania. They're going to lose games they should win, but they're also going to win games they shouldn't, like the Michigan game from Saturday. Assuming BOB sticks around, Penn State is going to be a force to be reckoned with in a year or two.
Minnesota: I like Jerry Kill, and as a native Minnesotan I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Gophers. But that said, the Gophers seem to be regressing offensively in year three. Philip Nelson seemed to have a promising future, but has been replaced by freshman Mitch Leidner. After some solid progress in year two, the Gophers seemed to have plateaued under Kill, and with his current leave of absence to deal with his ongoing health issues, you have to wonder what both the short and long term future holds for the Gophers.
Illinois: So who had Tim Beckman's coaching obituary written before the season started? Yeah, we all did, but Becks has fooled us all. OC Bill Cubit has turned around Nathan Scheelhaase, and Illinois has a shot of going bowling, which is something virtually no one saw coming when the season started. They're still a work in progress, and they're not ready to challenge for a conference championship, but Illinois isn't going to get pushed around by anyone. Well, except Nebraska. They pushed them around pretty good. But still, they're a lot better than we thought.
Iowa: Like Illinois...only not with such a negative connotation...Iowa wasn't really expected to do much this season. When they lost to Northern Illinois to open the season, I called my brother, a huge Iowa fan, and made fun of him. Because that's what brothers do to each other. I relish in his sports misery--it really brings me some pleasure. As does my misery to him, but I digress. They have at least one more win than most people thought, and with a victory against Minnesota to retain the Floyd of Rosedale, they've got a decent chance of going bowling.
Michigan: Is Michigan a paper tiger? Yeah, I think so. Really unconvincing wins at home against inferior teams lead to the epic 4OT loss at Penn State. With the recruiting classes and talent that the Wolverines have, they should be closer to the top 10 nationally than they are, yet in some ways, they seem farther away from the Big Ten title than half the teams in the conference. Devin Gardner is a turnover machine, they can't run the ball, and Brady Hoke and his staff has been outcoached more than once this year. Maybe this loss will be a wake up call for them, but without a running game, you're not going to be able to do much unless your QB is otherworldly. Devin Gardner isn't.
Northwestern: Dear Northwestern fan...just be quiet. Every year, you tell me that this year, Northwestern is going to be good. This is the year. Player A and Player B are going to be the real difference makers, and blah blah BLAH. And every year, when the rubber really meets the road, the Wildcats shit their pants. Last year, it was fourth quarter losses to MSU, UM, and Penn State. This year, it's back to back losses against OSU and an absolute dismantling at the hands of Wisconsin. We're barely into double digits into October, and you're pretty much out of the running for the conference title, barring a wild turn of events. Just stop about wanting to be considered a 'big boy'. You're not, and until you win one...just one, mind you...big game in the conference, you're a pretender. And don't defend your team's inability to win a big game anymore, because it's embarrassing for you, and it's becoming uncomfortable for me.
Purdue: Wow, Purdue. Wow. I like Darrell Hazell, but as cool as the curve in his hat brim is (and make no mistake, it's flat out bad ass), everything else that's associated with Purdue sucks right now. Bad defense, bad offense, bad coaching, it's a Perfect Storm of terrible, and there's really nothing to do until the eye passes over West Lafayette and you come out on the other side. Shutter the windows, get some batteries and water, and make sure your generator has a lot of gas. Oh, you don't have a generator? I'm sorry...I hope you can find fresh water somewhere. I'm sure the Red Cross will be by soon.
So if you're reading between the lines, I'm looking at OSU and MSU to make it to Indy, but I wouldn't be surprised if Nebraska makes the trip. I would be surprised...stunned, actually...if OSU doesn't. And everyone else? Pretty much somewhere in between.