Patterns are emerging.
There’s so much pre-season blather—I’m as guilty as anyone who loves college football in gobbling it up—that it takes a while to peel away the layers before we really know what’s going on.
Take that opening-week Notre Dame-Texas game, for example. A month ago, it looked like a potential matchup of Pick Six New Year’s bowl candidates.
Today? Reports are surfacing that Texas won’t fire Charlie Strong mid-season, while 2-3 Notre Dame already has fired its defensive coordinator.
If the over/under on Irish losses is six, approach that proposition very carefully. If they keep playing the way they have during their defense-challenged start, this could easily be a six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other season. Throw in another Duke debacle, and it could be shocking. As in, needing a doctor’s note to go to a bowl game.
Meanwhile, in the Big Ten, the biggest gainers and losers from what was expected by the pre-season hype are. . .
WINNER. WISCONSIN: With their 2-1 mark vs. Top 10 teams, the Badgers have emerged as the West Division favorite. Couple that with Iowa’s struggles and Nebraska’s inability to impress, and that’s especially true.
LOSER, MICHIGAN STATE: After their win at Notre Dame, the Spartans seemed poised to make good on projections that they would be in the East Division hunt with Michigan and Ohio State.
After stumbles vs. the Badgers and at Indiana, though, there’s no telling how low Michigan State can go. The Spartans still have the Buckeyes and Wolverines to deal with. And if they remain banged up, Northwestern and Maryland are ominous games. And what’s the deal with this week’s bizarre BYU nonconference game?
Put it this way: With its schedule, Wisconsin hardly shaped up as the team most likely to continue the Badger/Sparty streak of placing at least one team in the Big Ten championship game.
Now the choice is clear-cut.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS,
THE JUGGERNAUTS. . .
1, Ohio State (4-0, 1-0): After another blowout, 58-0 vs. Rutgers, isn’t it about time the Buckeyes picked on somebody their own size? Trouble is, we may have to wait until New Year’s for that. (No. 1 last week)
2, Michigan (5-0, 2-0): Wolverines did what they had to do, surviving three missed field goals in good test from awfully good Wisconsin in 14-7 head-knocker. And now, a bye week to shore up the place-kicking. (3)
THE BEST IN THE WEST. . .
3, Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1): Badgers gave Wolverines all they could handle in Saturday’s dandy old-school Rodent Bowl. With a 2-1 record vs. Top 10 teams and a freshman QB who doesn’t rattle, Wisconsin has a week off to prepare for Ohio State. That Camp Randall showdown should be competitive, too. (2)
THE MUDDLE IN THE MIDDLE. . .
4, Nebraska (5-0, 2-0): Like Western Michigan, the Cornhuskers have completed the Land of Lincoln sweep, beating Northwestern and Illinois. Unlike Western Michigan, Nebraska still needs to prove some things after trailing the Illini in the fourth quarter. (5)
5, Maryland (4-0, 1-0): Let’s just give new coach D.J. Durkin, the former Michigan defensive coordinator, credit for doing a great job, soft schedule or not. With Sparty sputtering, an 8-0 start is possible. (7)
6, Indiana (3-1, 1-0): Hoosier fans stormed the field after OT win vs. Michigan State and why not? First win in eight tries for IU vs. MSU, and most of those losses were blowouts. (9)
7, Northwestern (2-3, 1-1): Top ‘o the mornin’ to Pat Fitzgerald, who vowed to wake up his Wildcats in Iowa City. Mission accomplished. NU takes a week off before trying to keep rolling at reeling Michigan State. (11)
8, Iowa (3-2, 1-1): Heading into the season, it was reasonable to assume the Hawkeyes, coming off last year’s 12-0 start, could get to double-digit wins again. After struggling in its last three games, Iowa looking like it could be in for a rough ride. (6)
9, Michigan State (2-2, 0-2): Spartans need to regroup after being outplayed in upset loss at Indiana, and that won’t be easy. First-half targeting suspension in next game for star DT Malik McDowell, who’s among Big Ten’s best players. And injuries are piling up. (4)
10, Penn State (3-2, 1-1): Gave themselves and their fans something to feel good about, rallying to beat Minnesota in overtime. Another boost for embattled coach James Franklin, who received mid-week vote of confidence from his AD, which is often a mixed blessing. (10)
11, Minnesota (3-1, 0-1): After leading 13-3, Gophers let one slip through their paws in 29-26 overtime loss at Penn State. Needed one more third-and-long stop to win in regulation. Adding to messy trip, freshman linebacker Jaylen Waters was ejected for drilling the Nittany Lions’ 258-pound kicker, Joey Julius. This personal foul, coming on top of earlier incidents this season, is giving Minnesota an unsavory image. (8)
12, Illinois (1-3, 0-1): Encouraged by leading Nebraska 16-10 in fourth quarter of 31-16 loss, Illini will have opportunity in their next two, vs Purdue and at Rutgers. (14)
13, Purdue (2-2, 0-1): At least one fan website didn’t mince words, saying, “fire Darrell Hazell now’’ after Boilermakers were routed 50-7 by Maryland, where the rebuild is going a lot smoother.(12)
14, Rutgers (2-2, 0-1): After rout at Ohio State, next up for Scarlet Knights is home date with Michigan. It’s not like these disasters are a surprise for a program trying to get up off the canvas. At least the paydays are good in the Big Ten. (13)