How much can Big Ten fans learn about the strength of their conference from this week’s schedule? Eh, maybe a little, at most.
Conference backers hold conference supremacy debates all year long, but September offers the only preview for what the end of the year may have in store. For the Big Ten, the real tests are out west, where three schools (Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois) will venture to face a trio of Pac-12 middle-of-the-road programs (Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State).
The road is unfriendly no matter who is on the path or where they’re headed. But even though the Pac-12 has had the the Big Ten’s number in recent years when playing host, these matchups probably will not offer fans a fair gauge for which conference is tougher. Wisconsin and Nebraska both rank among the Top 20 in the latest AP Poll; neither of their opponents received votes. Oregon State is coming off a three-win season, while UCLA needed a late push to hold off Rice last week. And does anyone take Illinois seriously against Arizona State?
Lopsided matchups, each one.
Want a real gauge for conference supremacy? Force college football to change its ways – to take more drastic measures than even the recently announced playoff system.
If the college game took a page from the NFL (it would do well to steal several ideas, but one will do for now) it could solve the supremacy debate during after the season. How? Eliminate the ‘schedule 25 years in advance’ plan for a year-to-year automated system that pits finishers for each conference. In the NFL, the NFC East’s second-place finisher will face the second-place teams from the NFC North, NFC South and NFC West automatically. It’s one thing that has helped the NFL achieve parity.
Here’s how it could work at the college level: If the Pac-12 and the Big Ten agree to play one another (probably determined years in advance), the team with the sixth-best finish from the Pac-12 the year prior would face the sixth-best Big Ten school, and so on and so forth, first to 12th. Let the academics figure out which teams need to travel.
The schedule would be determined nine months in advance – plenty of time for logistics – and it would lead to more competitive matchups, preventing schools like Wisconsin from loading up on cupcakes during the non-conference schedule.
Suddenly, when the second week of September rolls around, there is nothing to debate; 12 games with each school fighting to help its league claim conference supremacy.
It’s a dream … and probably far too logical to become a reality.
-- Big Ten Notes –
• One player who did not get enough attention last weekend is Purdue QB Robert Marve, who completed 78.9 percent of his passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Sure, Marve beat up on lowly Eastern Kentucky, but it was his cleanest, most encouraging performance since his days at the University of Miami (FL).
• Minnesota’s climb from the cellar won’t get any easier if the team continues to make so many mental mistakes. The Gophers were flagged 11 times in their overtime win over UNLV (Minnesota was penalized a total of 68 times last year, sixth-most in the conference).
• Braxton Miller set an Ohio State school record for rushing yards (164) by a quarterback in his team’s win over Miami-Ohio. Former Buckeyes quarterbacks Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor never came close to that mark during their time in the lineup. Miller averaged 9.5 yards a carry, and took the first snap of the second half 65 yards for a score.
– This week’s schedule –
Saturday, Sept. 8
New Hampshire at Minnesota, 11 a.m.
UCF at Ohio State, 11 a.m.
Penn State at Virginia, 11 a.m.
Purdue at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m.
Indiana at Massachusetts, 2:30 p.m.
Air Force at Michigan, 2:30 p.m.
Michigan State at Central Michigan, 2:30 p.m.
Iowa State at Iowa, 2:30 p.m.
Wisconsin at Oregon State, 3 p.m.
Nebraska at UCLA, 6:30 p.m.
Vanderbilt at Northwestern, 7 p.m.
Illinois at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m.
**all times CT
– Spotlight –
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
No one would argue Toussaint’s absence cost Michigan against Alabama – the game wasn’t close enough for any one player to matter. Still, besides Denard Robinson, no player matters more to Michigan’s conference title hopes than their junior running back, who returns from his one-game suspension to try to help Michigan regain its mojo. Toussaint had 100-yard games in each of the Wolverines’ final three November contests of 2011; now the team needs him to offer a boost in September to get things back on track.
-- He Said It (quote of the week) –
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, when asked by reporters if his 354-yard, five-touchdown effort against Southern Miss was a statement game:
“I guess if you guys want to say that.”
Mike Beacom is the Big Ten football editor for Lindy’s. Follow him on Twitter @mikebeacom