Saturday, September 27, 2008

Can We Get Some (Conference) Respect?

Big Ten football is considered "middle of the pack" on the national scene this year. And that (as much as I hate to admit it) is understandable. Take a quick look at non-conference play across the conference -- from a national perspective.

Illinois: At a glance, the Illini weren't as competitive with Missouri as expected (you had to watch the game to see how well Juice proved he can throw). And, the effort against Louisiana-Lafayette was disappointing.

Indiana: The Hoosiers beat Western Kentucky and Murray State, but a loss to Ball State? By more points than they scored? Not impressive.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes dominated lesser competition, although it took them a while to score in the intra-state rivalry game. And they lost a close one against Pitt last week.

Michigan: The Rich Rodriguez era got off to a slow start. But most coaching changes disrupt a program on some level. The Notre Dame loss was painful, though. And now, a traditional conference power is the underdog in their home opener...

Michigan State: The season-opening loss at Cal contributed to the knocks against the Big Ten on the national scene, but the Spartans looked a lot better against Notre Dame last weekend. Yes, Charlie's team isn't the Notre Dame we've come to expect, but it still sounds good.

Minnesota: While the Golden Gophers are undefeated, their last-minute win against Northern Illinois to open the season didn't give a great first impression.

Northwestern: Another undefeated Big Ten team thus far, including a 24-20 victory over...Duke. Yes, the Wildcats won this "academic bowl," and Duke is slowly building a football program. But it's still Duke. Not the kind of win to break national stereotypes.

Ohio State: No question that they are still a top Big Ten program. But the USC loss? From a national perspective, enough said.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions are dominating competition. Absolutely destroying tough competition like Temple, Coastal Caroina and Syrcuse. On the bright side, the Oregon State win looks really good today.

Purdue: The Boilermakers had a priceless opportunity to build respect for the Big Ten when they welcomed the Ducks and dominated in the first half. The double-overtime loss was disappointing, but give them credit for a great performance against a ranked team. A win over Charlie and the Irish would be nice...

Wisconsin: On the national scene, Coach Bielema's Badgers may be the only undefeated Big Ten team being taken seriously. Ranked all season, they won on the road at Fresno State, a potential upset. And they have a legitimate chance to go undefeated...

With a few exceptions -- Penn State and Wisconsin -- the Big Ten non-conference schedule hasn't done much to earn national college football respect as conference play kicks off.
Does that matter? For Big Ten fans, it shouldn't. Conference play should be as intense and entertaining as ever.

Of course, Illinois and Penn State have a chance to put on a national show with the prime time game tonight. And as the Beavers proved, almost any team can change the national football scene with one game...


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