Michigan State, Big Ten’s last eligible national contender, humbled by Irish
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org September 16, 2012 7:48PM
Manti Te’o (right) and the Irish kept Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell in check Saturday, holding him to 77 yards. | Gregory Shamus~Getty Images
SUN-TIMES BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
MSU, the last eligible domino, fell to the Irish. Who knew this year’s Midwest drought would affect football as well as crops?
1. Ohio State (3-0) 2
2. Nebraska (2-1) 3
3. Michigan (2-1) 4
4. Michigan State (2-1) 1
5. Northwestern (3-0) 5
6. Wisconsin (2-1) 6
7. Penn State (1-2) 12
8. Purdue (2-1) 7
9. Iowa (2-1) 9
10. Illinois (2-1) 10
11. Minnesota (3-0) 8
12. Indiana (2-1) 11
Updated: October 18, 2012 6:19AM
Et tu, Mark Dantonio?
Michigan wasn’t even close against Alabama. Nebraska wasn’t close enough at UCLA. Wisconsin was way too close against unheralded Utah State. Ohio State, ineligible for the postseason, will stay close — to home.
That left Michigan State as the last great hope for the Big Ten on the national stage.
Then the Spartans betrayed that hope against an improving but not a scary Notre Dame team. Before a national-television audience, spurred on by a crowd of 79,219 at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State was befuddled by the Irish in a 20-3 loss.
The humbling was even more troubling because the Spartans’ running game, which features an alleged Heisman Trophy candidate in Le’Veon Bell, was held to 50 yards on 25 carries. Bell, who averaged 30 carries for 140 yards in MSU’s first two games, ran 19 times for 77 yards against the Irish. A foot injury sidelined offensive tackle Fou Fonoti, but that’s quite a drop nonetheless.
‘‘It’s everything from everybody. And it starts here,’’ Spartans coach Dantonio said.
‘‘It’s a signature win,’’ said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who could be on to something if ND is this effective at Oklahoma and USC.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of handwriting on the wall in the Land of Legends and Leaders.
A conference that began the season with five Top 25 teams, including three in the top 13, now has none in the top 15. It’s left with No. 16 Ohio State. No. 18 Michigan, No. 21 Michigan State and No. 25 Nebraska.
Wisconsin, which survived 16-14 when Utah State missed a late 37-yard field goal, is playing the way it did in the pre-Barry-Alvarez bad old days.
If the NCAA really is committed to integrity, it will order the Big Ten not to use the word ‘‘Leaders’’ to describe a division that has two teams on probation (Ohio State and Penn State), three teams that haven’t had a winning conference record among them since 2007 (Illinois, Indiana and Purdue) and the Badgers, who are searching, not leading.
Spreading it around
Amid the gloom and doom at the top of the Big Ten, let’s give a little credit to Northwestern and Minnesota for their 3-0 starts. Ohio State is the league’s only other unbeaten.
With Wisconsin in free fall, this could be an exciting time for the Illini, Hoosiers and Boilermakes, who are all 2-1 and could contend for a spot in the Big Ten title game. That should put a scare into the execs at Fox, which will air the game.
Rematch of the rematch?
It’s a little early to start oiling up the leather helmets, but USC’s loss at Stanford elevated LSU to No. 2 in the polls behind top-ranked Alabama.
If they hold those slots the way they did last year, going down to the wire when they meet Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge, La., the Crimson Tide and Tigers could maneuver themselves into another BCS title game.
The thought of two teams that didn’t score a touchdown until 4:36 remained in their second game won’t excite people outside the SEC. But that’s the way the system works. Or doesn’t work.
Look for No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Florida State to sell a lot of merchandise around the nation — wherever touchdowns are preferred to field goals.