The Buckeyes get caught on the wrong end of a nutcracker. Michigan flexes its muscle with a vengeance. Guess who the league's best playoff bet is now? And redemption for Purdue and Nebraska.
Five Things we learned about Big Ten football in Week 8
1, The Buckeyes are NOT who we thought they were
It wasn’t a total surprise that Ohio State lost. We’ve been warning you in this space that the Buckeyes defense was suspect.
But the way they lost, 49-20, at Purdue—it was pretty hard to see that coming.
In my mind, the fact that the Buckeyes were drilled 55-24 at Iowa last year assured that they wouldn’t be caught with their pants down again.
And by the way, what’s the deal with teams that wear black and gold? Are those colors like Kryptonite for people from Columbus?[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
For the second year in a row, though, Ohio State didn’t simply lose a road game in shocking fashion. With a loss like this, the only guy who would vote for the Buckeyes to be in the College Football Playoff is that Ohio State fan who paints his face scarlet and gray, and looks like he’s ready to go to Mardi Gras with Brutus Buckeye—and that guy is not on the committee.
Yes, Dwayne Haskins was 49 of 73, a pair of Ohio State records, for 470 yards. But that’s partly because the Buckeyes manager only 76 rushing yards on 25 attempts.
And on defense, they were tackling dummies. Some of those miseed tackles? Phew.
``The glaring shortcomings we had were exposed,’’ Urban Meyer said.
The biggest fallout of this game? It might be that it puts a massive dent in Meyer’s reputation.
With his record—he’s 51-4 in Big Ten games at Ohio State and has won three national championships—he has been the frontrunner for ``best college football coach who doesn’t live in Tuscaloosa’’ in many people’s minds.
By having a major meltdown for the second year in a row, that accolade may need to be revisited.
And that messy three-game ``suspension'' at the start of this season doesn't help matters.
2, One giant leap for Michigan
While Ohio State was being exposed in West Lafayette, Michigan was taking a big step toward proving itself worthy in East Lansing.
The Wolverines beat Michigan State 21-7 and the margin might have been bigger if a 75-minute lighting delay and a drenching rain had not intervened.
The Spartans gained a meager 94 yards and were 0 for 12 on third downs, while Michigan pounded out 395 yards. It was only the third win for the Wolverines in their last 11 meetings with Little Brother.
Michigan didn’t just win. It threw another serious log on the fire that fuels the one of the nation’s fiercest instate rivalries.
There was a pregame confrontation when a few Wolverines who were stretching got in the way of the Spartans walking from one end of the field to the other with their arms locked.
``Total bush league,’’ Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. ``Apparently coach Dantonio was five yards behind, smiling.’’
Dantonio wasn’t smiling afterward.
``That's B.S.,’’ he said.
These are grown men.
With the victory, Michigan’s first road win against a ranked opponent since 2006, the Wolverines ``improved’’ to 2-5 under Harbaugh against Michigan State and Ohio State.
They also moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten East at 5-0, one game ahead of Ohio State (4-1) and two games ahead of everyone else.
Afterward, Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich put out this Tweet: ``I’d like to take this moment to apologize... FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Go Blue!’’
3, Purdue is a serious threat in the Big Ten West
Let’s give a lot of credit to Purdue for its dominant performance against Ohio State. And then let’s say that this is more than emotional one-night stand by the Boilermakers.
We knew they had a potent offense designed by coach Jeff Brohm and carried out by stellar senior quarterback David Blough, who passed for 378 yards and three touchdowns, and electrifying 5-9 freshman receiver Rondale Moore, who caught 12 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
And now we know that Purdue has a stout defense. It gave up yards (546) but not points (only two field goals in the first three quarters) against Dwayne Haskins and the vaunted Ohio State offense.
Schedule is another reason why Purdue could prevail in the log-jammed Big Ten West. Two of the other one-loss teams, Iowa and Wisconsin, will play at Purdue.
Northwestern, which won its Aug. 30 opener at Purdue, holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. We’ll learn a lot more on Saturday, when Wisconsin travels to Northwestern, Iowa goes to Penn State and the Boilermakers play at Michigan State.
In other words, Game On in the Big Ten West.
4, The Big Ten’s playoff college football playoff hopes now rest with . . . Michigan
Remember all that talk about how Jim Harbaugh needed a big year? Well, he’s not only very much in position to have a big year. The Big Ten needs him to have a big year or risk missing the College Football Playoff for a second straight season.
Ohio State’s Boilermaker disaster leaves the Big Ten with no unbeaten teams. And if you believe, as I do and you should, that the Buckeyes’ brutal showing at Purdue removes them from the playoff picture unless the world gets turned upside down, that leaves two one-loss teams in the Big Ten.
``Fewest losses,’’ you may recall, is the key stat in the selection of the four playoff teams.
It’s possible that Iowa (6-1) could emerge if it runs the table. But that’s not a scenario commissioner Jim Delany wants to entertain.
Nope. The scenario that lets the Big Ten put its best foot forward is Michigan (7-1) winning out. That would mean beating Penn State in Ann Arbor, Ohio State in Columbus and a Big Ten West opponent to be named later in the conference championship game.
It’s easy to sit here today and say Michigan is capable of doing that. Because with that defense and quarterback Shea Patterson, the Wolverines are looking good.
But they have no margin for error. And this is college football.
Bottom line: Michigan and Notre Dame need to hold up their end of the deal. If they don’t, we could potentially have another Waffle House Invitational: With two SEC teams and Clemson occupying three playoff berths—and the rest of the college football world jockeying for the remaining slot.
Smug people in the rest of the nation like to look down their noses at Southerners. But the people in the Land of Grits have this playoff thing figured out.
5, Nebraska is off the schneid—and eying more
Nebraska ended its school-record 10-game losing streak with a flourish, thumping Minnesota 53-28. The Cornhuskers, who had shown a lot of promise in their previous two games at Wisconsin and Northwestern, piled up 659 yards, their biggest offensive showing in a Big Ten game.
Now that Nebraska (1-6) has given new coach/savior Scott Frost his first win, the question is, how many can it add this fall?
While I was driving to the Nebraska-Northwestern game, an ESPN authority—it might have been Kirk Herbstreit—picked the Huskers to beat Northwestern. If they did, he said, they would go on to finish 6-6. I thought that was crazy.
When the Huskers lost 34-31 in overtime to the Wildcats, the point seemed to be moot. Now, a .500 record is merely remote and far-fetched. But not impossible.
Bethune-Cookman, which comes to Lincoln on Saturday in place of Akron, the opponent lost to a weather cancellation. That’s 2-6.
It’s obviously gets tougher from there: At Ohio State. Illinois and Michigan State at home. Finish at Iowa.
The trip to Columbus is daunting, but it doesn’t look as impossible as it did before Saturday night. Win that one and go to Iowa City with a 5-6 record and—that’s a lot of momentum.
But seriously, if Nebraska can even finish 4-8, that’s a big stride after the miserable start.
``This is overdue,’’ Frost said. ``Our guys have deserved and played well enough to win some other ones, and we found some of the most unbelievable ways to lose games that I’ve ever seen. This leaves me shaking my head. But sometimes when you break through the dam, the flood waters come.’’
We’ll find out.[/membership]