The wait until the Ohio State-Michigan game is on for the Big Ten
BY STEVE GREENBERG October 6, 2013 8:12PM
Updated: November 8, 2013 6:25AM
The Northwestern-Ohio State contest on Saturday more than delivered on all the buildup, much of it by ESPN, that had given it a true national-game-of-the-week type of feel. It was an instant classic — as dramatic as any college game this season — albeit a heartbreaker for Wildcats fans.
Unfortunately, looking at things from a national perspective, the Big Ten won’t have another major moment in the sun until Nov. 30, when Ohio State visits Michigan in the bitter rivals’ annual regular-season finale. The Game, as it’s called, is a guaranteed big deal regardless of the Buckeyes’ and Wolverines’ records.
About those records, though . . . what if?
Fourth-ranked Ohio State is 6-0 and, it seems, out of the woods after beating Wisconsin and Northwestern consecutively. Who’s going to beat the Buckeyes before Michigan gets its shot? Iowa, Penn State and Indiana will be big underdogs in Columbus. Purdue and Illinois will be bigger underdogs at home. Go ahead and lock in Urban Meyer’s team at 11-0 heading to Ann Arbor.
No. 18 Michigan is 5-0, without a true marquee victory (sorry, Notre Dame) and with two embarrassingly poor outings (against Akron and Connecticut) on its résumé. The Wolverines could lose three or more games in Big Ten play, or they might just find their groove and get on a roll. A lot depends on how quarterback Devin Gardner performs Saturday at Penn State (4 p.m., ESPN).
Gardner had a stretch of awful play after the Notre Dame game that might have resulted from a late turnover in his end zone against the Irish. It was a terrible turnover, a brain cramp for the ages, and might have deeply unnerved him. He played a clean game last time out against Minnesota, a very good sign for the Wolverines. If he gets going again, the last Saturday of November could be extremely meaningful . . . maybe even unbeaten-vs.-unbeaten meaningful. What if?
The measure of a coach isn’t just how his team plays in the big game. It’s also how his team plays in the game after the big game. Serious question: After such a disappointing loss to the Buckeyes, can Pat Fitzgerald gear up Northwestern for Saturday’s challenge at Wisconsin (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7)?
The 19th-ranked Wildcats (4-1, 0-1) get the two most physical teams in the league in succession. The Badgers (3-2, 1-1), coming off a bye, have a second full week to game-plan for quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. This game might be even harder for NU to win than the last one was.
Have you heard the latest on South Carolina superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney? Not only has the reputed ‘‘best player in college football’’ done nothing of note on the field this season, but now he’s missing games with injuries that his coaches aren’t sure are real.
Columbia is awash with talk that Clowney — still considered a potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 2014 — is being advised by one or more influential people to protect his body and protect that draft status. If Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier makes it through the week without saying something he can’t take back, it’ll be an upset.
Red River headache
The second Saturday of October means Oklahoma-Texas (11 a.m., Ch. 7) at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. This can only be the worst possible timing for Longhorns coach Mack Brown. Old buddy Bob Stoops and the No. 12 Sooners (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) will show no mercy.