Being a lifelong Indiana native, I was brought up correctly and know that the only sports conference worth following is the Big Ten (or 14 but whose counting?). And Saturday may be one of the worst for the Big 10 in recent memory. Despite 8 of the 15 teams getting wins, the conference looked awful as a whole. Penn State had convincing wins over Akron and Western Illinois respectively, but Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa all won by single digits, and the only semi-impressive opponents of the 4 were South Florida and Ball State for Maryland and Iowa, but the fact that Nebraska only squeaked by McNeese State (Mind you who plays in a lower NCAA level than Nebraska) is not a real convincing win and Illinois had to come back against Western Kentucky (again, another real quality opponent here). But 8 wins on the week wouldn't be as troubling or as harmful as the 5 losses. Northwestern and Purdue both lost to MAC teams. While we all knew Purdue was going to be... well... not good, Northwestern falling to Northern Illinois and dropping to 0-2 is a bit troubling. The only 3 teams from the Big Ten that played power schools this week all lost as well. Michigan State appeared to have Oregon on the ropes at one point in Eugene, only to leave with a very damaging 19 point loss. Michigan was absolutely demolished in south bend, and Ohio State choked one away to an unranked Virginia Tech.
While these last 3 losses are all to quality opponents which is some ways makes them less painful, when we look at the broader scope of the whole season, they become very damaging. The Big Ten, like most power conferences, usually schedule a lot of midmajors or lower division teams in the opening weeks of the season to pad their stats and get the team off to a good start before they hit conference play. While that makes perfect sense in some regards, it also hurts them when they lose the few power conference games that they play. We are no longer in the BCS era where a computer decides who plays for the national championship. A committee will sit down and discuss the rankings every week, and who you play and who your opponents play will really matter. The Big Ten has very few quality opponents on the schedule (other than conference play) and it is very very real possibility that Nebraska's poor showing and the 3 losses by MSU, Michigan, and OSU has essentially removed the Big Ten entirely from the final four playoff this year. Now, is this the end of the world? No. Is there still a chance that the Big Ten gets a team in the playoff? Yes. But they have created a pretty big mountain for themselves to get over the rest of the season, and they will no doubt need a lot of help from the other conferences to get a team in one of the Big games. Only time will tell what happens, but if the Big Ten is missing from the playoff, you can look back to this past saturday as a big reason why.
Thanks for reading,
T.O. signing out.