The Big Ten usually waits until New Year’s Day before completely embarrassing itself on the national stage. Instead the league got its annual face palm out of the way in early September this year.
BCS schools pummeled the Big Ten on Saturday, winning six of seven games. After two weeks the league is 2-9 against high-major competition. Both of those wins were generated by Northwestern — a one-point squeaker at Syracuse and a 10-point win against Vanderbilt.
September 8, 2012 was a game date that lives in Big Ten infamy, alongside the 0-5 performance on New Year’s Day in 2011 and a 1-6 2008 bowl season. Five of Saturday’s losses were by one score or less, but they still featured inept performances by teams expecting more this season.
Wisconsin, the prohibitive Leaders Division favorite, struggled running the football for the second straight week. The Badgers fell 10-7 at Oregon State, rushing for just 35 yards on 23 carries. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, once considered the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, rushed for 61 yards on 15 carries Saturday.
“There just wasn’t any room down there,” Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema said Saturday. “We didn’t handle the pressure very well, and they brought some pressure. They did a really nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage.”
The loss comes one week after the two-time Big Ten champion Badgers (1-1) rushed for only 168 yards on 47 carries in their 26-21 season-opening win against FCS Northern Iowa.
Against Oregon State, Wisconsin converted just 2-of-14 third-down opportunities and held the ball for 24 minutes, 25 seconds. This was against a team the Badgers had beaten 35-0 and finished 3-9 last year.
After a solid outing in its opener against Southern Mississippi, Nebraska (1-1) fell apart in a 36-30 loss at UCLA. The Cornhuskers gave up 653 total yards, including 344 on the ground. It was more of a grayshirt — rather than Blackshirt — effort by the vaunted Nebraska defense.
“Obviously I’m disappointed by how we played defensively,” Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said. “I’m embarrassed by how we played defensively, and I point the thumb at me first.”
Nebraska’s offense fizzled in the second half, gaining just 106 total yards and six first downs. Quarterback Taylor Martinez completed just four passes for 30 yards and threw one interception after halftime.
Illinois (1-1) ended the Big Ten/Pac-12 trifecta Saturday with a 45-14 blowout loss at Arizona State. Illinois actually held the ball for nearly 11 more minutes than the Sun Devils, but if Arizona State hadn’t fumbled twice inside the Illini 10-yard line, the final score could have ranged from deflating to soul-crushing.
Two games into its season, Iowa has scored one touchdown and kicked six field goals. It was good enough for one victory, but not for a second on Saturday in a 9-6 loss at home to cross-state rival Iowa State. Iowa receivers dropped eight passes, the team ran for just 68 yards on 28 rushes and the Hawkeyes (1-1) converted just 5 of 17 third-downs attempts.
“I don’t think we are that far away but, you know, things really have to be clean and crisp for us to execute right now,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Depleted Penn State (0-2) nearly upset Virginia on the road 17-16. The Nittany Lions missed an extra point and four field goals, including a 41-yarder on the game’s final play. Purdue gave up a field goal with 7 seconds left to fall 20-17 in a game effort at Notre Dame.
Next week won’t produce the same results, if only because the Big Ten plays just three BCS opponents. But there’s a chance for further embarrassment. Ohio State (2-0) plays host to Pac-12 opponent California. Michigan State faces unbeaten Notre Dame, and Northwestern travels to Boston College, its third straight game against a BCS opponent.
Given the Pac-12 and Big Ten’s long-standing relationship with the Rose Bowl, it’s probably a good thing the west coast league backed out of the football scheduling collaboration slated to begin in 2017. Based on Saturday’s action, it’s like keeping your 80-year-old carpenter neighbor from re-roofing your house. You like him but he’s a stubborn man, and you know he’s going to hurt himself. You just don’t want it to happen at your expense.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
1. Michigan State 2-0
2. Ohio State 2-0
3. Nebraska (1-1)
4. Northwestern (2-0)
5. Michigan (1-1)
6. Purdue (1-1)
7. Wisconsin (1-1)
8. Iowa (1-1)
9. Minnesota (2-0)
10. Illinois (1-1)
11. Penn State (0-2)
12. Indiana (2-0)