College Football Playoff: Game Over for the Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten needed a big week to shore up its weaker than weak reputation, and failed miserably- big, big time. In Week 1, Wisconsin lost to LSU after leading 24-7 in the 3rd quarter. While the loss was not devastating for the Big Ten, it definitely validated ESPN college football pundits who claimed the Big Ten the weakest of the Big 5 conferences. The Big Ten needed to show some strength by winning all of its big games in Week 2, starting with the mega-fight between the #3 Oregon Ducks and the #7 Michigan State Spartans. Not only did the best team in the Big Ten decisively lose to the PAC-12's best, other teams lost big games or games that they shouldn't have lost.
Michigan State Loses the Big One in Eugene
The Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans traveled to Eugene, Oregon as a confident, and battle hardened team. Oregon's speed, and highly complex offense was a concern. However, the tough defensive minded, and run-first offense Stanford Cardinals, a carbon copy of the Michigan State Spartans, have beaten the high flying Ducks the past 2 years. So, there was some hope that Spartan Coach Mark Dantonio's highly ranked defense could compete. Like a heavyweight fight, each team delivered blows as Oregon started fast with an 18-7 lead. Michigan State dug in and fought to a 24-18 halftime lead. Oregon was on the ropes, but Duck's QB Mark Marriotta slipped Spartan tacklers on a 3rd and long turning a sure sack into a 20 yard pass play and 1st down. This gave the Ducks the needed momentum to rattle off 28 straight points. The Spartans were tired, disheartened, and rattled during the 28 point explosion and could not answer the bell. While the loss does not hurt the chances for Michigan State to win the Big Ten conference, their hopes to make the inaugural college playoffs have diminished.
Virginia Tech Pounds Urban Meyer's Buckeyes in Columbus
The unranked Hokies of Virginia Tech traveled to Columbus with a new QB, a veteran transfer from Texas Tech. The Ohio State Buckeyes struggled to beat Navy in Week 1, but that could be attributed to a young starting QB getting his bearings in his first ever start on the road. This should have been an easy home opening win for an Urban Meyer coached team. The Buckeyes have not lost a home opener since 1978, which happened to be legendary coach Woody Hayes last year of coaching.
After going down by 14 points at the half, OSU fought back to tie it up at 21-21 in the fourth quarter, but the Hokies scored the go ahead TD with 8:44 left in the game. JT Barrett could not lead his team down the field to tie the game, and the confident and aggressive Hokie defense finished off the Urban Meyer offense with a Pick-6 for a decisive final score of 35-21.
The Final Stats for OSU were ugly:
- Two missed field goals
- Poor 3rd down efficiency(4-16)
- 3 interceptions
- 7 Sacks
- QB JT Barrett: 9-29 passing, for 219 yards
The once hopeful Buckeyes and Urban Meyer are now reeling now, having lost 3 out of their last 4 games dating back to the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeye resume is looking very weak to apply for a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Chicken Dance Karma Bites Michigan
The bitter and popular Michigan/Notre Dame rivalry ends this year as no future games between the historic programs are scheduled. Recently, the rivalry games have been thrillers, going down to the wire like the 2011 game where Michigan's last second touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Ray Round beat the Irish 35-31. Last year, Michigan coach Brady Hoke called out the Irish for "chickening out" of the rivalry, and his Wolverines backed up his bravado with a 41-30 victory. To kick the Irish while they were down, the Michigan Marching Band played the "Chicken Dance" song as the Notre Dame players walked off the field.
The Big Ten needs a strong Michigan team to help the weak perception of the conference. Could they end the rivalry with another Wolverine thrilling win with the new splashy hire of former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier leading the way and help the Big 10's reputation? As it turned out, the answer was a resounding, "No". The Irish dominated the score, shutting out Michigan 31-0 even though the Michigan offense out gained the Irish in yards. The final score should have been 37-0, but Notre Dame's interception touchdown return on the final play was called back due to an unsportsmanlike conduct/roughing call. Michigan was embarrassed, as they have not been shutout since 1984. Quarterback Devin Gardner regressed into last year's bad habits of not protecting the ball giving up 3 interceptions and a fumble.
Michigan is pretty much eliminated in the College Playoff unless they get some help from the other conferences. This assumes of course that the Wolverines travel to East Lansing and Columbus and beat the Spartans and Buckeyes respectively. This is highly unlikely considering Michigan's dismal and uninspiring performance in South Bend. Since starting 5-0 last season, the Wolverines have underperformed going 3-7. Maybe Rich Rodriguez wasn't so bad after all.
To add Insult to injury, the Big Ten lost not once, but twice to the Mid-Atlantic Conference(MAC); Central Michigan beat Purdue and Northern Illinois beat Northwestern. The Big Ten has more resources, financial backing, and better recruits, so no team should ever lose to an inferior conference opponent such as the MAC. Additionally, Iowa and Nebraska escaped with narrow wins over Ball State and McNeese State respectively.
All in all, this was weekend doomed any Big Ten member from making the College Football Playoff. By failing to show strength in the non conference games, the impact of the head to head conference match-ups is diluted as the Big Ten's reputation is now very weak.
At this point, only Michigan State or Ohio State have a fighting chance to make the playoffs by winning all of their games, but need some serious help as a weak conference such as the Big Ten would lose tie-breakers for strength of schedule . I now believe that the CFP committee could select 2 one loss SEC teams for the final four spots, shunning the weak Big Ten.
The preseason perception that the Big Ten is a weak conference is now a harsh regular season reality.