The Big Ten has bigger problems than the Playoff: Another year of second-class status
In two weeks, the Big Ten is doing its part to make sure the College Football Playoff selection committee doesn’t have to address one of its fundamental issues.
As of Sept. 6, the dilemma of picking potential representatives of five power conferences for four playoff spots seems to be a moot point. After only two weeks, Big Ten teams will have trouble making a compelling argument for Playoff inclusion.
Among the only teams still undefeated in the Big Ten are the two new arrivals (Maryland and Rutgers), a team serving a postseason ban (Penn State) and Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. In other words, none of the programs the Big Ten expected to carry the banner for the league in the first year of the Playoff.
In some ways, a team that lost by 19 still looks like the top team in the league.
That’s how bad the Big Ten’s most critical weekend in years transpired.
In a week when Big Ten teams lost to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, went toe-to-toe with Ball State and McNeese State, and lost in a historic rout to Notre Dame, Michigan State’s back-and-forth against Oregon at Autzen is respectable by comparison.
The narrative of a potential Big Ten bounce-back year, starting with Wisconsin’s 24-7 lead over LSU in the third quarter a week ago, has dissipated into another season of limited relevance for the league on a national scale.
Here’s a step-by-step look at how the Big Ten has bigger problems than missing out on the Playoff:
Wisconsin’s moment evaporates
LSU came back from a 17-point deficit in the top game of Week 1 to defeat Wisconsin 28-24. Wisconsin’s Heisman contender Melvin Gordon was limited by a hip injury, and quarterback Tanner McEvoy proves incapable of moving the ball in the passing game. A week later, Wisconsin led Western Illinois 9-3 in the first half before rallying for 28 unanswered points in the second.
Pelini’s blood pressure is not improving
With defensive end Randy Gregory sidelined for the entire game and receiver Kenny Bell out for the second half, Nebraska needed running back Ameer Abdullah to save the day with a late touchdown catch in a 31-24 win. Even considering Nebraska’s 55-7 win over FAU in the opener, this isn’t the look of a potential top-10 team.
Not the easiest 2-0, but it will do
Limited by scholarship sanctions and banned from the postseason, Penn State pulled away away from Akron to win 21-3 after a 14-point second half, a week after a game-winning field goal as time expired against UCF in Dublin. Three turnovers and a lackluster running game don’t inspire confidence for Penn State.
Hey, at least Illinois saved face
Two weeks and two big fourth quarters saved Illinois from a winless start. Illinois trailed Youngstown State 9-7 going into the fourth and trailed Western Kentucky 27-21 before pulling away for a pair of wins. Quarterback transfer Wes Lunt is helping Illinois save face.
Iowa’s gonna Iowa
After missing three field goals and turning the ball over twice, Iowa overcame a 10-point deficit against Ball State in the fourth quarter to win 17-13. A week earlier, Iowa needed the fourth quarter to pull away from Northern Iowa for a 31-23 win.
The MAC strikes back
A week after losing to Cal, a team that went 1-11 in 2013, Northwestern lost 23-15 to Northern Illinois. Northwestern lost 2.5 yards per carry in two games. The Wildcats, whose top running back transferred and top receiver was injured shortly before the season, have lost nine of their last 10 games. At Northwestern was competitive against a MAC foe. After dodging a home loss to Western Michigan, Purdue lost 38-17 to Central Michigan.
The Big Ten’s moment slips away
For a time, a Big Ten looked to be on the verge of a headlining win for the conference as the Spartans take a 27-18 win at Autzen Stadium against Oregon. The Ducks adjusted on defense while Marcus Mariota led four scoring drives against a stout Michigan State defense. The Spartans lost 46-27. No Big Ten team will have a better opportunity to impress the selection committee this season.
Michigan embarrasses itself
It’s one thing to lose a rivalry game on the road to a ranked team. What happened to Michigan was humiliating — a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in a game that featured four turnovers and two missed field goals. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, hired to fix Michigan’s run game and consistency issues, has now presided over the Wolverines’ first shutout since 1984.
The Big Ten's last hope loses the fourth quarter
The final team in action Saturday, Ohio State clung to a chance to salvage the day for the Big Ten with a 21-21 fourth quarter with Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ pressure, though, was relentless with seven sacks and three interceptions of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. The offensive line was leaky, and Ohio State tailbacks contributed 53 rushing yards on 15 carries. The question, then, is if even Braxton Miller could have saved this team.