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Maize N' Blue Big Ten bloggers' roundtable

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(Hey guys...before getting into the roundtable, it’s time for a desperate plea. The buyer that I had lined up for my basketball tickets to the next couple of games fell through, so I am needing to unload the next three games as quickly as possible. I’m also leaving for Miami tomorrow night, so the Detroit tickets are especially up against it. If anyone is interested in my seats for the Detroit game Friday night, or both NIT sessions next week, please feel free to contact me. Face value on the pair for each game is $40, but I am willing to entertain offers, especially on the Detroit game. If you want those tickets I will get them in the mail tomorrow before I leave and send them priority so they’ll arrive on Friday. As far as the NIT games, I’ll take the tickets with me to Miami. I’ll have e-mail access, so I can mail them priority from there to make sure you get them within two days. The seats are upper level, but at mid court so they are pretty good seats. Just drop me an e-mail at tamiller@excite.com and we’ll work something out tonight. Thank you!)


It's been a couple of weeks, but Maize N' Blue Nation steps up with this week's Big Ten bloggers' roundtable. Yours truly will be hosting in two weeks after the regular season ends, but for now it is time to hand it over to someone else.

1) With two weeks left in the season, it's safe to say that most
schools have reached the point where the year has been a success or a disappointment. How has your school fared this year in your opinion?
Or, is the jury still out?

The jury has convened and we have been found wanting. This season is an unmitigated failure. It is not as bad as 2005 when we began the season as a dark horse national title contender and finished 5-6, but it is still bad. When the season began I said that anything between 4 and 10 wins would not surprise me. Still, to be on the low end, especially since our defense has been better than expected, is disappointing.

2) Is your school heading to a bowl? If so, which one? And if not,
WTF?

The Bucket game is our bowl game again. People are saying Tiller has left the program exactly how he found it, and it is nearly true. We’re facing Indiana for the honor not to finish dead last in the conference now. The defense, though the numbers don’t show it, has actually played pretty well. It has kept us in games against Minnesota, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. Unfortunately, those were the four games our offense had just about the four worst games of the Tiller Era. In them, we scored 6, 7, 6, and 3 points respectively. For years we’ve had issues with ranked teams. In those four games all four opponents were ranked. We held all four to 21 points or fewer. A normal Purdue offense can score 21 points without trying. Instead, the offense was awful when we merely needed it to be average.

3) The Big Ten has recently had a hard time getting respect among the
national media as a top conference. Has the Big Ten taken a step
forward or a step backward in this debate this season?

I actually wrote about this today for a future entry, so I might as well place it here. Be wary, as it is is long winded, but appropriate. I mentioned several times in last week’s wrap up how the conference is top-heavy with three great teams and eight mediocre to bad ones. The jury is even still out a bit as to where Michigan State fits in there, as they are in the good group despite not having a great win on their schedule and going 0-2 against the good teams they have played. Last year 10 teams were bowl eligible, yet this season there may be no more than seven. The reason: The Big Ten played much tougher non-conference schedules and failed miserably in many of the bigger tests. Here is a list of the conference’s best non-conference wins:

Penn State over Oregon State
Michigan State over Notre Dame
Purdue over Central Michigan.
Wisconsin over Fresno State (only included because it was at Fresno State and the Bulldogs were ranked at the time)

That’s it. Assuming a Wisconsin win over Cal Poly in two weeks, the Big Ten will finish 32-12 against its non-conference foes. On paper that is pretty good. In reality, 29 over those wins were over teams in games that the Big Ten team probably should have won regardless. Nine of the wins came against 1-AA opponents, so at least the conference was perfect there unlike the past few seasons. 10 more came at the expense of the MAC. All told, the Big Ten won just six games against BCS conference teams:

Penn State over Oregon State
Northwestern over Duke
Northwestern over Syracuse
Penn state over Syracuse
Michigan State over Notre Dame
Iowa over Iowa State

Syracuse and Iowa State are awful, so we can probably throw those out right now. Duke is better, but still Duke.

Let’s look at the twelve losses now:

Central Michigan over Indiana
Toledo over Michigan
Western Michigan over Illinois
Ball State over Indiana

We can already see the MAC struck back. The 10 wins were essentially against the worst conference has to offer, while the Big Ten was 1-3 against the best three teams (Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Ball State). Sure these came over some of the Big Ten’s worst, but it is still a black eye. Here are the other eight losses:

Oregon over Purdue (2OT)
Cal over Michigan State
USC over Ohio State
Notre Dame over Purdue
Utah over Michigan
Notre Dame over Michigan
Missouri over Illinois
Pittsburgh over Iowa

Notice anything there? If you take away Notre Dame, every single one of those teams have spent multiple weeks in this year’s top 25. Both Notre Dame wins also came in South Bend, where except for last season and against Michigan State or Boston College, the Irish normally defend their home turf very well. These were eight very nice chances for the conference to shed its reputation, and the conference whiffed in all eight. Utah is the only non-BCS foe, but considering they may be a couple wins from their second BCS berth we can’t truly consider them non-BCS now. None of these games carried the non-conference opponent as an overwhelming favorite either, therefore each one could have been a win.

If not for Oregon State cracking the top 25 this week, the Big Ten would have just a single win over a team outside of the conference that has been ranked at anytime this year, and that is Wisconsin’s win over a currently staggering Fresno State. Of the four teams that went through the non-conference schedule a perfect 4-0, three (Northwestern, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) will be relaying on that 4-0 mark heavily in order to get to a bowl. All but the Wisconsin win over Fresno and Penn State win over Oregon State were games the Big Ten should have won anyway, so its not like these are shining beacons of playing a tough out of conference schedule.

Why am I writing this? I don’t know. I am just a sucker statistical analysis I guess. I know as a Big Ten supporter I am obligated to fight against the whole perception hat the conference is down. The proof is right here though the numbers do not lie. We have failed as a whole in nearly every single game that mattered this year outside of our own bailiwick, and that perception will exist until we find some success there.

4) Would the Big Ten benefit from adding another school to create two
divisions like the SEC, Big 12, ACC and MAC? And if so, which school
should be added? Or, should we drop one school?

I think at the very least we need to do something. We don’t have a true round robin, but we don’t have enough for a conference championship game. But who would we add? The obvious answer is Notre Dame, but they honestly have no reason to join when they can string together nine win season and cash $14 million checks for getting lit up every few years. That leaves us to raid another conference. I have heard Pittsburgh thrown around as a possibility, especially as a more natural rival to Penn State. They’re also decent in football and an up and coming basketball power. If the conference is going to do something we should do that.

5) Do you agree with President-elect Obama that college football
should have an 8 school post-season playoff?

I say take it one step further and go for 16. We can find 16 good teams, plus it would give every conference a shot. Sure, you’ll have the #1 team blowing out the Sun Belt champion in round one, but what makes the NCAA basketball tournament so compelling is the potential for upsets.

6) Who is your favorite network television play-by-play announcer/
color commentator/sideline reporter?

Brent Musberger, for one reason and one reason only…