IOWA CITY — It’s one thing to see the BCS Top 25, which doesn’t have a single Big Ten team in it thanks to Ohio State being on NCAA sanctions this season.
But when you hear as levelheaded a voice as ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit bad-mouthing the conference’s football, it’s jarring.
I was driving to Kirk Ferentz’s weekly press conference Tuesday morning when I caught Herbstreit’s appearance on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN Radio show. Cowherd’s job is to entertain and stir the pot, so you shouldn’t get bent out of shape when he throws knives at the Big Ten. But when it’s Herbstreit, the former Ohio State quarterback and a broadcasting voice of reason …
Cowherd: “Have you ever been really sick and the best way to get over it is to throw up? I didn’t feel good Saturday so I watched Big Ten football and vomited. And I felt so much better. … That’s the worst major-conference I’ve ever seen in my life.
Herbstreit: “Isn’t it something? I’m a video game guy. Not as much in my old age as when I was younger. I came all the way the way up with Pong …
“The rest of college football, they navigate through with PS3 and Xbox. You tune into a noon Eastern Big Ten game, I swear it’s like Tecmo Bowl. Even before Tecmo Bowl, an Atari 2600 (games that came out in the 1970s and 1980s).
“It is unbelievable where this conference is right now.”
Herbstreit: “Unless you’re looking to catch up on a nap, then it’s the perfect thing to watch.”
I know a win is a win, and a win at Michigan State is always a great thing for any Big Ten team to get, and Iowa had every reason to be jubilant about leaving East Lansing with its 19-16 double-overtime victory Saturday.
But that was one of those games Herbstreit was talking about, and he was right. While the two defenses both had fine games, the Iowa and MSU offenses were painful to watch. Their passing games seemed to predate Pac-Man.
Michigan State’s half the team it was last year, with the missing half being a passing game. Iowa, given a schedule that doesn’t include Ohio State or Wisconsin, could play itself into Legends Division title-contention if it gets just a little better offensively than what it’s been in the first half of this season.
Ohio State is the league’s one Top Ten team, but it allows 400 yards a game. Its 52-49 win over Indiana Saturday night was hard to watch, but for the opposite reason as Iowa-MSU. The defenses were horrible.
Michigan, the league’s only other ranked team, got blown away by Alabama and had almost as many interceptions (five) as points (six) at Notre Dame. That was twice the scoring Michigan State did against the Irish.
Nebraska has a porous defense. Wisconsin is starting a quarterback who couldn’t unseat the No. 1 QB of any other Big Ten team. Penn State is 2-0 in league play, but lost at home to Ohio and on the road to a mediocre Virginia team.
Iowa is 114th in the nation in passing efficiency. and 98th in total offense. Yet, the Hawkeyes were good enough to handle Minnesota and slip past Michigan State. That says something good about the Hawkeyes, something not as kind about the Big Ten.
Yes, there’s been a population shift from the northern U.S. to the Sun Belt for quite a while now. But does every great high school football player now live in a warm-weather state and want to stay in one?
Is, crazy as this may sound, football getting away from the Big Ten? Has football gotten away from the Big Ten?
Never mind the six straight BCS titles for the SEC. The Big Ten has lost in eight of the last nine Rose Bowls in which it sent a team, has had its last two Capital One Bowl participants (Nebraska and Michigan State) clubbed by SEC opponents, and has one-third of its Leaders Division teams on NCAA probation.
“I’m worried about us trying to win Saturday, pure and simple,” Ferentz said when I asked him about his conference’s slippage. “Football’s football. It’s cyclical.”
But is it really, I asked him.
“Time will tell.”
The SEC and Big 12 have seven teams apiece in the BCS Top 25, not that the BCS Top 25 reflects all that is true about the sport.
Saturday’s 11 a.m. (CT) Big Ten games are Minnesota-Wisconsin and Purdue-Ohio State. At the same time, ESPN will telecast LSU-Texas A&M and FX will air Iowa State-Oklahoma State.
If you like football, skip the Big Ten nap and watch the Cyclones, Cowboys, Tigers and Aggies.
This video from Iowa Nice Guy on ESPN’s College Football Daily has its own take: