Badgers’ loss ugliest of Big Ten’s six on painful Saturday
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org September 9, 2012 9:36PM
3-9-07 Staff mug shot of Herb Gould. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times
SUN-TIMES BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
With the Buckeyes barred from postseason play, the Spartans look like the league’s best postseason bet.
1. Michigan State (2-0) 3
2. Ohio State (2-0) 1
3. Nebraska (1-1) 2
4. Michigan (1-1) 5
5. Northwestern (2-0) T-6
6. Wisconsin (1-1) 4
7. Purdue (1-1) 9
8. Minnesota (2-0) 10
9. Iowa (1-1) T-6
10. Illinois (1-1) T-6
11. Indiana (2-0) 12
12. Penn State (0-2) 11
Updated: October 11, 2012 6:21AM
Six of one. Half-dozen of the other.
After its unsavory 6-6 performance, the temptation is to call Saturday “The Day the Big Ten Stood Still.”
But that wouldn’t be accurate. The way things played out, the Big Ten took a major step backward.
Two of its ranked teams, No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 16 Nebraska, dropped out of the Top 25 after upset losses. That leaves the league with only three ranked teams: No. 10 Michigan State, No. 12 Ohio State and No. 17 Michigan.
The biggest loser is Wisconsin, which fell 10-7 to Oregon State. The Badgers didn’t simply lose. Their usually formidable running game was held to 35 yards, including three sacks for minus-35 yards.
Montee Ball managed 61 yards on 15 carries, putting his Heisman Trophy bid on life support. New quarterback Danny O’Brien also struggled.
The most glaring issue, though, might be that Wisconsin’s generally formidable offensive line was overwhelmed. It failed to give Ball running lanes and didn’t protect O’Brien, who compounded the problems by holding the ball too long.
The Badgers’ stumble headlined the Big Ten’s 0-3 record in games at Pac-12 teams. In fact, the Big Ten is 5-28-1 in such games since 1993.
At least Nebraska — which lost 36-30 at UCLA, which seems poised for a good season — played without star running back Rex Burkhead. And Illinois, drubbed 45-14 at Arizona State, has a right to believe it would have been more competitive if quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had played.
In the Big Ten’s third significant upset loss, Iowa looked messy on offense in a 9-6 fall against Iowa State. Decimated Penn State, which missed four field goals in a 17-16 heart-breaker at Virginia, seems to be in even more dire straits than expected.
Leaders’ ship in question
Too bad Oregon State, which hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1965, missed the deadline for applications to the Big Ten’s Leaders Division. After stiff-arming the Badgers, the Beavers would be the front-runners for a trip to Pasadena.
If Wisconsin continues to be as down as it has looked in its first two games, the door could be open for a strange entrant in the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State is ineligible. Penn State is ineligible and unspeakable.
That means Purdue, Illinois or Indiana could enter the divisional picture. While the Boilermakers were competitive at Notre Dame and the Hoosiers have a pair of modest wins, Illinois remains the team of mystery.
As weak as the Illini looked at Arizona State, the absence of Scheelhaase meant a seriously dialed-down playbook. The Sun Devils used their speed and a clever scheme to make the Illinois defense look worse than it’s liable to be when the game slows down in Big Ten play.
It doesn’t mean anything until it happens, but if Pat Fitzgerald, who got another nice lift from Trevor Siemian in relief of Kain Colter, can keep hitting the right notes with his musical quarterbacks, Northwestern could get to 7-0 without conquering anyone monumental.
Just one request. Even if Northwestern is Chicago’s team, does it have to keep the play-by-play television camera anchored in Chicago? Zoom it in a little closer to Evanston. And maybe string up a couple more lights. The Cats’ 23-13 win over Vanderbilt was grainy as well as gritty.