Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:19 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 12:19 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. The Big Ten can't even get cheap wins correctly. There's no nice way to put this: this was possibly the worst week in Big Ten history in terms of opponent quality. The total amount of AP and coaches poll votes held by the Big Ten's Week 4 opponents? 22, received by Michigan opponent San Diego State, who will likely see that number fall to zero on Sunday after the Wolverines prevailed 28-7. Handfuls of undeserved votes aside, the best team anybody in the Big Ten faced today was Western Michigan, who took Illinois to the limit in Champaign. Again: Western Michigan, a MAC team with no AP or coaches poll votes, looked like the most talented opponent of Week 4 for anybody in the Big Ten. And being that there were no riots on any of the Big Ten campuses, apparently fans are willing to allow this scheduling practice to continue.
So it would stand to reason that the Big Ten went 10-0 this week (Purdue and Northwestern are on bye weeks) then, correct? Well, no. Indiana couldn't overcome a 24-point deficit in a 24-21 home road loss to North Texas, and Minnesota increased its losing streak against North Dakota State to two games (also lost to Bison in 2007) by dropping Saturday's game, 37-24. As for how such a shocking loss could have possibly happened to a Big Ten team, well, look at the picture above. It's Minnesota. There were blowouts everywhere else in the conference, which is the way it ought to be, but 8-2 against a slate of cupcakes? Shame on the Big Ten for that.
2. Speaking of which, Indiana and Minnesota may be worse than we thought. It was obvious already that Indiana and Minnesota were going to be taking up residence in the basements of their respective divisions, what with the Hoosiers losing to Ball State in Week 1 and Minnesota dropping one to New Mexico State already this year. But both teams' losses to low-level competition this Saturday were even worse, because for most of the game, they weren't even close. North Texas was 0-3 on the year coming into the game, and built a 24-0 lead while moving the ball at will on the Hoosier defense, while NDSU held a 31-14 advantage in the second half before holding on for the win. We're talking about a previously winless Sun Belt team and an FCS school who both looked like they belonged in the Big Ten more than the Hoosiers or Gophers. That? That's not good.
3. Braxton Miller is not on Terrelle Pryor's level... yet. Ohio State cruised to a 37-17 victory over visiting Pac-12 doormat Colorado, but the big story here was Braxton Miller's debut as a starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. Miller was a force on the ground, registering 83 yards on 17 carries, and he also threw for two touchdowns. That's the good part. The bad part is that Miller was just 5-13 for 83 yards through the air, and he just doesn't have a very good read progression at this point. Really, he wasn't even supposed to be playing this year, much less starting, but then Terrelle Pryor's eligibility walked out the door and now here we are with a true freshman under center in Columbus.
Miller's going to improve over the course of the year, one would imagine, and that's good because don't let the touchdowns fool you: he's got a ways to go yet before he's as reliable as Luke Fickell is going to need him to be in conference play. Miller did show flashes of the athleticism and play-making ability that made him such a sought-after prospect on Saturday, but the consistency is going to be the key, and that comes mainly with time -- time that, with Michigan State coming to town next Saturday, Ohio State doesn't really have.
4. Michael Mauti's luck is just wretched. Penn State beat Eastern Michigan 34-6, but the real story for PSU is the injuries suffered on the defensive side of the ball. CB D'Anton Lynn was carted off the field in the second half with an apparent neck injury, but he's expected to be fine. The real problem for the Nittany Lions is the absence of All-American candidate Michael Mauti, who suffered a torn ACL on a non-contact injury in the first quarter and will miss the rest of the year. Mauti was forced to redshirt in 2009, his second year with Penn State, after tearing his right ACL; Saturday's injury happened to Mauti's left. It's early enough in the year that he'll likely be able to apply for a sixth year of eligibility in 2013 if he wants it.
This marks the third season marred by injury for the talented linebacker; in addition to the 2009 ACL injury mentioned earlier, Mauti was plagued by ankle and shoulder issues in 2010 and never seemed to be at 100% during Big Ten play even when he was healthy enough to be on the field (not always the case). Mauti had looked great in early play this season, and although Nate Stupar is no slouch in relief, losing a high-caliber player like Mauti is tough for a team that's going to be leaning heavily on its defense this season with the continuing difficulties at quarterback.
We hope Mauti's recovery is swift and complete, and that he finally gets at least one healthy season to put it all together for Penn State. Anything less, frankly, would be unfair.
5. There are going to be a lot of quarterbacks getting All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition. The best quarterback in the Big Ten is probably Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, and if it's not, it's Mr. Michigan, Denard Robinson.(seen at left, rushing for one of his three scores Saturday). Short of injury, there's basically no way these two dynamos cede the All-Big Ten first team and second team honors at the end of this season.
That means honorable mention is going to have to accommodate a lot of Big Ten quarterbacks who are off to great starts this season in their own right. Nathan Scheelhaase is basically a job-saver for Ron Zook at Illinois, epitomizing the "dual threat" label with a high option IQ and an accurate arm. James Vandenberg is probably the best pure passer Kirk Ferentz has ever had at Iowa, and the junior has nearly 1100 yards, 10 TDs, and only one interception in his first four games this year. MSU's Kirk Cousins was my preseason pick as 2011's top QB in the Big Ten, and he still may be so when the dust settles. Nebraska's option man Taylor Martinez would be the most dynamic rushing quarterback in the Big Ten since Antwaan Randle-El if it weren't for that Denard fellow in Ann Arbor. And oh yes, Dan Persa is coming back next week for Northwestern; if he can replicate his pre-Achilles injury form, Northwestern's going to be in great shape. That's a lot of very, very good quarterbacks for just one conference, and the scary part is that only Wilson and Cousins are seniors. Meanwhile, Indiana brings in top prospect Dusty Kiel next season and Braxton Miller will be the unquestioned starter in Columbus with a full year of experience under his belt in 2012. The high-profile quarterback isn't going anywhere soon in the Big Ten.
One school that's conspicuously absent in this discussion is Penn State, who struggled again with quarterback play in the Rob Bolden/Matt McGloin quarterback platoon that seemed to hit a stride of sorts this week... against EMU, who isn't even good by MAC standards. How the Penn State quarterback situation got so dire is a question that gets beaten past any semblance of sense on a weekly basis in Happy Valley, but it doesn't change the fact that Penn State's in a quarterback-heavy league without a true No. 1 quarterback, and it's probably going to cost the Nittany Lions this year. It would be false to ascribe this to an institutional weakness on the part of Joe Paterno, since his last full-time starting quarterback was Daryll Clark, who was only the Big Ten OPOTY in 2008. It would also be false to think this problem will fix itself, though, because if there were a legitimate, game-ready quarterback on Penn State's roster, well, we would have seen him by now.
6. Well, at least that's all done. There are only two non-conference games left for anybody in the Big Ten; Purdue faces Notre Dame next week, and Northwestern has a date with Rice in November. For everyone else, it's nothing but Big Ten play from here on out. No more FCS patsies, no more MACrifices, and no more cupcakes showing up for a paycheck. It's the way the Big Ten was meant to be played. Let's go.
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Tags: Adam Jacobi, Antwaan Randle-El, Ball State, Big Ten, Braxton Miller, Colorado, D'Anton Lynn, Dan Persa, Daryll Clark, Denard Robinson, Dusty Kiel, Eastern Michigan, FCS, Illinois, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, James Vandenberg, Joe Paterno, Kirk Cousins, Kirk Ferentz, Luke Fickell, Matt McGloin, Michael Mauti, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nate Stupar, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Non-BCS, North Dakota State, North Texas, Northwestern, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rice, Rob Bolden, Ron Zook, Russell Wilson, San Diego State, Sun Belt, Taylor Martinez, Terrelle Pryor, Western Michigan, What I Learned, Wisconsin