Bad Day for the Big Ten: How the League Struggled in Week 2
Big Ten teams finished 8-5 on September 6, but the quintet of losses (including three marquee primetime match-ups) were especially painful for the conference’s national reputation. It remains to be seen how much damage Saturday’s outcomes could do to the league’s hopes of putting a school in the new four-team College Football Playoff at the end of the year, but the early returns aren’t promising.
No Big Ten team is ranked higher than 13th in this week’s AP poll, so Jim Delany’s universities have some work to do to get back into the national title discussion.
Here are the worst results from Saturday’s Big Ten games, ranked according to Alexander’s ever-helpful “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” scale.
VERY BAD: Northwestern and Purdue lose to MAC teams
Big Ten teams playing nearby MAC schools in September is an annual and predictable tradition in the Midwest, right up there with the autumn leaves changing color. Historically, the power conference has dominated these match-ups. Lately, not so much.
Northwestern’s 23-15 loss to Northern Illinois and Purdue’s 38-17 defeat at the hands of Central Michigan ensured an eighth straight season with at least one MAC-over-B1G result. The fact that both games were played in the losing teams’ stadiums makes these outcomes even more disheartening for fans of the Big Ten.
Central Michigan never trailed in handing the Boilermakers a 21-point defeat, a scoreline made more surprising by the absence of Chippewas star receiver Titus Davis. Northern Illinois won its 16th consecutive road game in dropping the Wildcats to 0-2, improving its record versus the Big Ten to 5-3 since 2009.
Now, to be clear, neither Northwestern nor Purdue was expected to challenge for championships in 2014, but the lesson remains the same — the days of assuming a date with a MAC team is an automatic win on a Big Ten team’s schedule are long since gone.
NO GOOD: Michigan State blows second-half lead at Oregon
The Michigan State Spartans had a golden chance to strike a blow for Big Ten supremacy in a top-10 showdown at Oregon, but the Spartans came up on the wrong end of a 46-27 scoreline. Michigan State actually led 27-18 in the third quarter, but the Ducks closed with a flurry of 28 unanswered points to put the visitors away.
While a loss on the road to the nation’s No. 3 (now No. 2) team is hardly something to be ashamed of, the defending Big Ten champion’s road to a possible postseason playoff berth just got that much more difficult (and the Spartans’ margin for error just went from thin to non-existent).
A veteran Michigan State team seemed to be the Big Ten’s most logical shot of winning a national championship in the 2014 season, and the Spartans’ poor second half in Eugene means MSU will most likely have to run the table to even have a case for inclusion in the playoff.
It’s a second straight week that a Big Ten team choked away an opportunity for a signature win outside the Midwest after halftime (see: Wisconsin-LSU seven days earlier), and that’s a trend the league needs to remedy immediately.
HORRIBLE: Michigan suffers first shutout defeat in 30 years
The Michigan Wolverines could have doubled, tripled, or quadrupled their point total at Notre Dame on Saturday night, and it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference. Michigan finished with a grand total of zero points on the scoreboard in a 31-0 loss to the Fighting Irish, marking the first time in 30 years that the Wolverines were held scoreless in a game.
Much was made in the weeks leading up to Michigan-Notre Dame about how the legendary rivalry won’t be renewed in the foreseeable future, but Webster defines “rivalry” as “a state or situation in which people or groups are competing with each other,” and Brady Hoke’s team didn’t seem all that interested in competing in South Bend this weekend.
The 31-point margin represented the most one-sided affair in the teams’ 42 all-time meetings, and — who knows — maybe it’s a good thing for the Wolverines that they won’t have to play the Irish again anytime soon.
A nationally televised clash between two of the three winningest programs in FBS history is a bad time to lay an egg, and Michigan’s uncharacteristic no-show made the Big Ten’s day to forget that much worse.
TERRIBLE: Ohio State’s regular-season winning streak snapped in upset
The Big Ten’s rough Saturday seemed to get worse as the day rolled on (an 8-2 start at the noon and 3:30 p.m. Eastern time slots didn’t seem all that miserable), and the exclamation point came Saturday night in the Horseshoe, when then-No. 8 Ohio State dropped a 35-21 decision to Virginia Tech.
The Buckeyes, one of the Big Ten’s traditional powerhouse programs, had won 25 straight regular-season games — best in the nation — coming into Saturday’s matchup with the Hokies, but looked lost on offense without injured star Braxton Miller (who is out for the season after shoulder surgery). Ohio State hadn’t lost a home opener since 1978 and hadn’t dropped a non-conference home game to an unranked foe since the days of John Elway, but all of that changed against Frank Beamer’s gritty defense.
With J.T. Barrett running the offense in Miller’s stead, the Buckeyes hardly look like a championship contender. And with Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin already suffering losses in 2014, which undefeated team in the conference does? Nebraska is the highest-ranked and biggest name of the remaining schools, but the Huskers needed a touchdown in the final seconds to escape McNeese State this weekend — hardly the stuff title teams are made of.
On the bright side, with news that Penn State’s bowl ban has been lifted two years earlier than expected, the conference at least has one more nationally relevant team that is eligible to take home a trophy. Of course, whether the Nittany Lions have the talent to do so this season is another question altogether.
Still, nothing has been officially decided in September, and there’s a lot of football left to be played. But make no mistake: The Big Ten couldn’t have scripted a worse Saturday, and we may very well look back at September 6 three months from now as the day the conference’s national championship hopes crumbled.
Update: This story was changed to reflect the NCAA’s Monday announcement that Penn State’s postseason ban is no longer in place.