Glancing over college football rankings after Week 6, I saw the expected drop of LSU’s and Georgia’s positions after losing Saturday. Then an odd feeling struck me when I hit the USA Today Coaches Poll. Something is missing.
Then I realized, it, where is a team from the Big Ten?
For the first time in the history of the Coaches’ Poll, there are no Big Ten teams in the Top 25.
You are probably asking yourself, Is the Big Ten really that bad?
Well, I hate to say it, but yes.
Do keep in perspective the fact coaches are not allowed to vote for undefeated Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) because of NCAA sanctions banning the team from post-season this year. The AP Poll has tabbed the Buckeyes at the No. 8 spot.
But regardless, when there are more Big East teams in the Coaches’ Top 25, it is no subtle indication the Big Ten as a whole is struggling.
We could sit and argue if this season was simply over-hyped for many teams like Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. And this inevitably caused the sheer disappointment and pessimism you are reading. But stats and the scoreboard don’t lie; Big Ten teams haven’t been that good this year.
Just look at the Leaders division. The only two teams in the Big Ten that boast a 2-0 conference record are Ohio State and Penn State. They sit atop the division but do so with an asterisk next to their names.
Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) has won their last four games. Scoring 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter Saturday against then-undefeated Northwestern is not a performance I would call bad. But the team has already suffered two losses, and half of their remaining six games will be played on the road.
Ohio State is unarguably the best this conference has and could very well go undefeated this season. However, with their possible wins being capped at 12, the one shining program so far in the conference will not represent the Big Ten in the championship game, or find its way to the big stage in Pasadena.
The middle of the pack teams in the division, Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) and Purdue (3-2, 0-1) will battle to represent the Leaders in Indianapolis, and whichever of the two arrives will likely get pummeled.
We all knew the road to the Big Ten Championship was not that difficult for Wisconsin. With Montee Ball returning and what we thought was another solid transfer quarterback, Danny O’Brien, the Badgers could be a powerful team regardless. However, I sit here after Week 6 questioning if, based on how Wisconsin has played thus far, they really deserve that spot.
Which brings me to Wisconsin’s “competition.” Illinois (2-4, 0-2) and Indiana (2-3, 0-2) have effectively taken themselves out a chance to play in the conference championship with two conference losses already. To further emphasize how much of a non-factor these teams appear to be, the biggest headline in Champaign, Ill. is that head coach Tim Beckham was seen chewing tobacco during Saturday’s game against the Badgers. A violation of NCAA rules, this should not amount to any major response, but still, that is the biggest news I have to talk about. Until either team proves otherwise, they remain in the Big Ten basement this year.
With the Leaders offering no superior post-game potential, the Legends division appears where the Big Ten champion will emerge from. But these teams are in a state of question as well.
Michigan (3-2) is the frontrunner to emerge from the division at this point. They snuck back into the AP Poll as the No. 25 team after a win over Purdue in Week 6. Their two losses so far this season come at the hands of No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Notre Dame.
Currently tied at 1-0 in the Big Ten with the Wolverines, Iowa (3-2) has yet to show us anything remarkable with their three wins coming against Minnesota, Northern Iowa and Northern Illinois. This coming week, the Hawkeyes will face division rival Michigan State (4-2, 1-1), and it should be a good match-up for who will contend with Michigan in the division. After losing their conference opener to Ohio State, the only reason the Spartans are not 0-2 in the Big Ten is the fact Indiana’s defense blew a 17-point lead Saturday. While defensively Michigan State has been solid, the offense led by running back Le’Veon Bell has been inconsistent since losing to Notre Dame in Week 3.
Defense is where Nebraska and Northwestern need to make some serious improvements, and fast. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1) fell hard Saturday, giving up 63 points to Ohio State. The Huskers’ four turnovers didn’t help the defense either. Their defense allowed 498 yards, a similar problem the team faced in its Week 2 loss to UCLA.
The Wildcats (5-1, 1-1) had hope with a 5-0 start, but falling to Penn State in Week 6 showed they are not a real threat. Defensive woes finally caught up to their dynamic offense that had masked problems, as an 11-point lead turned into a 11-point loss. Against Indiana in Week 5, Northwestern allowed Indiana to score 29 points in the second half, but managed to come away with a 44-29 victory.
Last, but not quite least, Minnesota (4-1,0-1) showed they are not a true contender in the Big Ten as well, falling 31-13 to Iowa in Week 5 after an 4-0 start to the season.
My pessimism should not be taken as insult, but more of a reality check to the conference. For every good team there is a team in shambles, and in the middle you find the rest failing to reach their potential thus far.
There is still a lot of football left to be played. I think everyone is hoping to see this conference improve, but as it looks right now, I am simply unimpressed.