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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 4 Of Big Ten Football

Matthew Holst - Getty Images

The non-conference season, except for two games, is thankfully over for the Big Ten. The numbers are ugly too:

  • The overall record is only 33-13 with two games (Purdue vs. Marshall and Indiana vs. Navy) to play.
  • Against BCS conference teams the league is 5-9, beating only Syracuse (twice), Boston College, Vanderbilt, and California.
  • Indiana, Penn State, and Iowa became MACrifices to Ball State, Ohio, and Central Michigan, respectively.
  • The league was 0-3 with only two touchdowns scored against Notre Dame.Those belong to Antavian Edison.
  • Worse yet were the near misses such as Northern Illinois-Iowa, Northern Iowa and Utah State-Wisconsin, UNLV-Minnesota, Indiana-Indiana State, and Michigan-Air Force.
  • Only Michigan State over Boise State was a win over a ranked team.

It's been brutal, made worse yesterday by Iowa completely blowing the Central Michigan game and Illinois somehow allowing 52 points at home to a WAC team. Let's go around the League.

Louisiana Tech 52, Illinois 24

I thought that La Tech could move the ball and put up some points, but 52 points and capitalizing on six turnovers? Yikes! Illinois was outscored 45-7 in the first and third quarters combined. Some thought they would be a contender in the Leaders Division, but against the only two good teams they have faced they have given up 97 points while scoring only 35. It certainly looks like the Wisconsin-Purdue winner is headed to Indy as a result because the Fighting Illini are struggling.

New Illinois blog A Lion Eye is not mad, however:

With each turnover tonight, that relevance slipped further and further away. I picture Northwestern fans seeing our score and laughing and it cuts so deep. I can sense the "I thought Illinois fired Zook" tweets by national writers, every one of them a punch to the gut. When you want something that much, the failure to achieve it hurts. And when you lose at home to a WAC team, proving you're light years away from your goal, there's no description that fits the pain. When it hits, it's hard to breathe.

Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31

A few years ago Central Michigan beat Michigan State in almost the exact same way. They got a late touchdown, missed the deuce to tie, only to recover the onside kick and make a long field goal for the win. It happened to the Hawkeyes this time.

Predictably, Black Heart Gold Pants had a meltdown:

Special teams gaffes? A late defensive collapse? I think we've seen that script before in, oh, about half of Iowa's losses from 2010 and 2011 (to be charitable). In the final two minutes alone, Iowa's special teams gaffes included a bizarrely short kickoff (yes, Meyer was kicking into the wind but his kick barely even made the 10-yard line), atrocious kickoff coverage (setting up CMU at their own 40-yard line), and Yet Another Fucking Onside Kick Recovery. I thought the officials did an absolutely abysmal job of managing the whole onside kick situation (and, at the game, no one had a fucking clue why it was taking them so long or why CMU got to re-kick it), but there's still no excuse for Iowa's reaction (or lack thereof) on the second onside kick. Henry Krieger-Coble watched the ball skip by him. Fucking absurd.

Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6

If Michigan had even gotten a D minus game out of Denard Robinson they beat the Fighting Irish. The Wolverines were nothing less than awful on offense. They missed a field goal and had a brutal turnover in the red zone to start the game. Even then, they were still in the game in the fourth quarter. It was all on Robinson according to Maize N' Brew:

Michigan outran Notre Dame by a decent amount. They were one pass away from outdoing them in passing as well. So, how did Michigan lose? Simple: Robinson turned the ball over five times, each one as painful as the next. Four of the turnovers came in the form of Robinson interceptions, and every last one of them was a direct result of Robinson's poor decisions. His footwork was also horrific all game, and at this point what you see is what you get.

Michigan State 23, Eastern Michigan 7

A week ago Purdue stumbled a few times but blew out Eastern Michigan with ease. The Spartans struggled and struggled until two fourth quarter touchdowns finally allowed them to put a winless MAC team away. The Only Colors was less than impressed:

Nothing has been resolved since the Notre Dame loss. Something like six or seven drops from the receivers. No one stuck out among the outside guys. Dion Sims is still the only guy who Maxwell has any confidence in. The offensive line wasn't great. Maxwell finished 16-for-29 for 159 yards and one touchdown. No major mistakes, but some bad throws, too many checkdowns short of the sticks, and the receivers didn't help.

Minnesota 17, Syracuse 10

It hasn't always been pretty and they haven't really beaten anyone, but the Golden Gophers are 4-0 and just two games away from reaching the postseason. As bad as much of the league has looked they can certainly get those two victories as well. The key to this game, as it was in so many other games yesterday, was turnovers. At least these went Minnesota's way:

By the end of the night the Gopher defense forced a total of four turnovers, sacked Ryan Nassib 3 times, notched 5 tackles for loss and held Syracuse to 3 points for over 47 minutes of the game. Both sides had more than their share of penalties (8 for us, 10 for them) and the Gophers missed two field goals. But when it mattered most the Gophers came through.

Nebraska 73, Idaho State 7

At least one team looked good yesterday. The Cornhuskers, as you can tell by the score, had no trouble at all. Rex Burkhead returned to rush for 119 yards and two touchdowns on only eight carries. Imani Cross even had 100 yards as a little used back. As of now, Nebraska might be the favorite in the Legends Division:

As for yesterday, frankly, it was tough to evaluate much of what we saw on the field. Nebraska did what they were supposed to against a bad opponent. We got to see just about everybody who was eligible to play on the field, other than Chase Rome. (And that was probably for disciplinary reasons.) If you could play and not burn a redshirt, you were out there. It was a game that required binoculars and a roster so you knew who was out there in the second half.

Northwestern 38, South Dakota 7

The Wildcats are 4-0 for the third time in five years. Before that, they had not been 4-0 since 1962. Better, yet, the Wildcats have the best resume of the conference by having three wins over BCS conference foes. I said at the beginning of the year that it felt like one of those crazy years where Northwestern gets on a roll and wins close game after close game. If it continues in Big Ten play they can reach Indianapolis.

As expected, the fans were fairly non-plussed about this one:

The game obviously was pretty meh, not because Northwestern didn't play well, but because Northwestern didn't need to play well: the Wildcats were bigger and stronger and faster and it was a two-touchdown game within ten minutes. 38-7 isn't the most impressive scoreline ever recorded against an FCS team, but it's what NU needed. They got in, got out, got the W, and didn't get anybody hurt enough that they won't be playing next week, although there was a scare with Kain Colter.

Ohio State 29, UAB 15

I hate to keep saying it, but the Buckeyes will only go as far as Braxton Miller can go. When a team figures out how to stop him they will be screwed. OSU fans know this, too:

They start slow but eventually pick up the pace and distance themselves from their opponent. They have holes on offense that are filled by athletic ability and skill. The defense has issues tackling but makes enough big hits and creates enough turnovers to mask the ill effects of such play. The team has yet to reach its potential, but got out of the Horseshoe with another win.

Penn State 24, Temple 13

Death, taxes, and Penn State beating Temple. These things we know are certain. In an era where even Navy can beat Notre Dame the Nittany Lions continue to have mastery spanning seven decades over Temple:

Penn State had struggled with the Owls the last couple years, but don't let that score fool you--this one was never really in doubt. Once Penn State's offense got going, the only thing that could stop it was a series of yellow flags, and the defense continued on its path of gradual week-to-week improvement. It might've taken a while for this season to be about football, but now that it is, we've got ourselves a pretty darn good team.

Wisconsin 37, UTEP 26

I still haven't seen much of the Badgers, but they are very shaky headed into Big Ten play. Montee Ball lost his first fumble, so given the wild over-reactions coming from Madison he will likely be drawn and quartered later this week. Now they have to travel to a Nebraska team looking for some payback after the rude welcome to the league they received last year:

Things will get much tougher for the Badgers as they open up Big Ten play starting next week. Wisconsin's first test in the conference this season? Hitting the road to play Nebraska.

Time to put your big boy pants on gentlemen.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Eastern Kentucky 51, Jacksonville State 21 - The Colonels are 3-0 since losing at Purdue and opened conference play with a big win.

Marshall 54, Rice 51 2 OT - Marshall squeezed past Rice in what was clearly a defensive struggle. They continue to lead FBS in passing, but the defense is giving up 42 points per game.