Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Put up or watch from home (again) for Big Ten

I don’t like Michigan, I don’t like Michigan State, and I would love to see the Badgers beat Ohio State later this season at Camp Randall almost as much as I would love to see Carmen Electra standing in my living room when I get back from class today. Let’s hope both of those things happen.

To this day, the image of Ohio State players waving towels at the Wisconsin crowd and “jumping around” between the third and fourth quarters two seasons ago still scars my mind.

Am I rooting for these teams this weekend? I surely am. You should too, no matter how much you might hate the Wolverines and despise the Buckeyes.

In recent seasons, particularly last year, Big Ten schools with legendary football histories fell victim to early-season non-conferences losses. The losses by top teams in the league left the Big Ten out in the cold in terms of a national title hunt. This from a league that has begun to lose clout with many East Coast writers.

The last time a Big Ten team won a National Championship was in 1997, when the Wolverines owned one of the two title trophies that existed in the days before the creation of the mythical beast known as the BCS.

The Big Ten has slipped farther from a National Championship in the years that have followed, and with that slip has come a slip in some programs’ abilities to recruit. Last year Joe Paterno struggled through a tough year and a tough schedule with players that were clearly not of a caliber that had been present at Penn Sate just several years before that. The story of Penn State mirrors the conference as a whole.

Make no mistake — the Big Ten has not liked being out of the national picture. Coaches have changed offenses, defenses and recruiting methods in order to fight their way back into the title picture.

So far this season, the Big Ten has appeared to be back on track with conference favorites Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin taking care of business in non-conference games. Michigan and Wisconsin have already avenged losses to teams that beat them in last year’s pre-season, and Ohio State has looked as dominating as any team in the country.

Yet those game have meant little compared to what is about to come.

We have reached that weekend in the college football season when it is time to put up or shut up for the Big Ten. Marquee matchups abound for the conference’s best teams. Victories will thrust the conference into the national spotlight, and losses will place the Big Ten’s best behind the favorites from the SEC, Big-12, Big East, Pac-10 and ACC.

While Wisconsin takes the week off against MAC opponent Northern Illinois, other top teams in the league will be put to the test.

No. 7 Michigan travels to West Bend Indiana to take on No. 20 Notre Dame, and Penn State will try to victimize No. 8 Nebraska, while the biggest game for the conference in terms of a national title will be played at Ohio State, where the No. 6 Buckeyes take on the No. 10 Washington State Cougars.

All week, coaches have downplayed the importance of this weekend’s games, claiming that they are just one game in a long season. Don’t believe a word of what they say. Any hope, slim as it may be, of a Big Ten team playing in the national championship game rests with these teams this weekend.

Two or three wins in these games and the league would be in the hunt; two or three losses and the league will be stuck watching the championship drama unfold without a chance to participate in it.

Ohio State and Michigan should win this weekend. Each team is more talented than its opponent and has at least one quality victory each, while their opponents are largely untested. Washington State has only played Kent State while Notre Dame is still looking for its first offensive touchdown. These two games are expected wins for the conference, and anything less will send the league spiraling down again.

A more intriguing game, perhaps, is Penn State vs. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are ranked eighth but have struggled at times this season. Nebraska has recently had problems recruiting and is no longer receiving the quality of players it once did. This makes the Cornhuskers susceptible to the upset.

This game has a huge upside. If the Lions can pull off the upset, the league’s worth will sky rocket, but a loss will do little to hurt title hopes of others in the league.

Coaches have said time and again that the great thing about college football is that each and every game counts. While every game does count, certain games count a lot more than others. After this weekend, the country will know whether or not the Big Ten will be allowed to try and compete for a championship later this year or if they will once again be left on the outside looking in.

I won’t be wearing an Ohio State shirt, and I promise readers that there will be no repeat of a column that ran last fall professing a certain editor’s love for the Wolverines. I have no love for the Wolverines, Buckeyes or any other team for that matter, but I will root for them every weekend until they play the Badgers.

Call it wishful thinking, but someday in my life I hope to watch the Badgers win a National Championship, and that will never happen if the conference’s best fall off the map in 2002.

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