GOULD: Despite down year, Big Ten littered with story lines
BY HERB GOULD For Sun-Times Media December 1, 2013 8:12PM
Braxton Miller, Blake Countess
Ohio State vs. Florida State
Michigan State vs. Arizona State
Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
Updated: December 1, 2013 9:13PM
If Big Ten honchos want to get creative — and here’s hoping they don’t — with their new division names, they could do worse than Sturm und Drang.
Storm and Stress were abundant all around the league this football season, and the pattern has continued to the very end.
Ohio State, perhaps the most unloved team that’s ever won 24 consecutive games, dodged a bullet in its shockingly close 42-41 victory Saturday at Michigan.
That win, coupled with Auburn’s thriller over Alabama, has put the Buckeyes in position to play for the national championship. But there will be plenty of whining that Ohio State isn’t deserving — and never mind that BCS computers aren’t allowed to use margin of victory.
At least Ohio State is in the hunt. Michigan must shed its burgeoning under-achiever label, and Wisconsin muffed its chance for a historic fourth consecutive Rose Bowl trip when it brought out its worst in a 31-24 home loss to Penn State. Screwed by bumbling officials in an early loss at Arizona State, the Badgers have no one to blame but themselves this time.
‘‘We don’t deserve [a BCS bowl] after that performance,’’ star linebacker Chris Borland said.
If Ohio State is disrespected, Michigan is discombobulated and Wisconsin is disappointed, who’s happy?
How about Michigan State? The Spartans are being projected for their first Rose Bowl since 1987, even if they lose to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game on Saturday. MSU’s stout defense will try to stifle Ohio State’s explosive offense.
There also should be smiles in Iowa and Minnesota. With Kirk Ferentz once again holding together a program that seemed on the verge of coming apart, the Hawkeyes quietly put together their first winning record (5-3) in the Big Ten since 2009. The Gophers (8-4) already have their highest win total since 2003. If Jerry Kill can manage his epilepsy, they have a coach who can keep the program rolling.
And there’s nothing wrong with the way Bill O’Brien has Penn State soldiering on through its NCAA miseries. If you had your pick of any Big Ten coach, maybe you’d take Urban Meyer. But you’d have to think about O’Brien.
As for the rest of the litter, Purdue is doing a nice job of keeping Illinois from being in the spotlight as the league’s messiest disaster area. Indiana continues to put up points in bunches but give them up in bigger bunches.
Coming off its best season under Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern wilted under the quadruple-threat burden of expectations, a diabolical schedule, ill-timed injuries and inexcusable tackling. The good news? Fitz and the Cats will bounce back, far from the hot lights of “GameDay.”
Then there’s Nebraska. Despite an increasingly tense relationship between Bo Pelini and the fans and media who devour Cornhusker football, the embattled coach apparently will return.
All things considered, Nebraska made a good move joining the stable, lucrative and prestigious Big Ten. But it comes with a price for a program used to competing at a very high level.
The Big Ten might have been down this fall. But that didn’t stop it from being interesting in a ‘‘Days of Our Lives’’ sort of way.