And just like that, on Sept. 15, the Big Ten was eliminated from having a national-championship football team for a 10th-straight season.
Sure, sure, Minnesota and Northwestern are 3-0. But so are Rutgers and Ohio and Texas-San Antonio, and they won’t be in Miami next Jan. 7 unless they take a crazy detour home from the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.
No matter if once-beaten Michigan and Wisconsin and Nebraska and now Michigan State tear through their Big Ten schedules without a scratch. What they have already done in the season’s first three weeks will be poison to the BCS computers.
Michigan didn’t belong on the same field with Alabama, a feeling Arkansas now knows all too well.
Wisconsin has suddenly become almost exactly as good as everyone it plays, be it Northern Iowa, Oregon State or Utah State. The shredding of Nebraska’s defense at UCLA will long remain a hard image to shake when it comes to the Cornhuskers.
Michigan State, on the primetime stage with Notre Dame coming to East Lansing, had a chance Saturday night to firmly declare itself a national player and the Big Ten’s beacon of hope.
After the game, MSU Coach Mark Dantonio said “We didn’t run the football. We didn’t protect the quarterback very well and we had some drops.”
Wow. Iowa never had all three of those deficiencies in one game when it staggered through a 1-point win over Northern Illinois and 3-point loss to Iowa State.
The final score was Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3. Three points at home in MSU’s chance to say hello to America. Instead, it was goodbye, Spartans. Farewell, Big Ten.
OK, if Michigan State or Michigan or someone else finds its footing and barrels through the Big Ten, maybe enough other dominoes would fall over the next three months to put that team in the BCS championship.
But that won’t happen. No Big Ten team has gone unbeaten in league play since Ohio State in 2006. The ’06 Buckeyes didn’t have a conference-championship game to win, and they were better than anyone in the 2012 Big Ten.
Beating up on Big Ten football has been too easy a game to play in the season’s first three weeks. It can go from comical to morose in a hurry, because a lot of the conference season’s shine is rubbed off when you already realize the Big Ten isn’t going to be a serious player in national-title talk.
Via the miracle of satellite radio, I listened to the end of the Michigan State broadcast of the Irish-Spartans game. The announcers were down, but they reminded MSU fans that everything is still ahead of the Spartans. A division-title, a league-title, a Rose Bowl — those are all still out there to be pursued.
But on Sept. 15, to not be able to hear any Big Ten broadcasters or fans list one of their teams as even a national-title darkhorse is weird.
So what about Iowa? How’s that for a smooth transition?
This is a rare season in the that Iowa didn’t have resembling a breather in its first three weeks.
That changes a perception about a team. When you get an Eastern Illinois or Tennessee Tech to open with, you can work out your kinks and not pay a price for it. I love that Iowa has had good opposition in each of its first three games, but the Hawkeyes’ coaches could have done without it.
Nothing about the first one-fourth of the season indicates this Iowa team has greatness. But if you want to talk about the possibility of having a winning Big Ten record for the first time in three years and going to a bowl that people have actually heard of, it’s there for the taking.
The Hawkeyes’ schedule isn’t cruel. Three weeks have passed, and no one in the league looks special. Usually, you can’t say with certainty until at least mid-season.