By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) The Big Ten is bad. But you already knew that.
The most embarrassing moment for the conference in the BCS era occurred Sunday evening when not a single Big Ten team was ranked in the first BCS poll of the season.
Of course, Ohio State would be in there, but they’re not eligible.
And you can thank Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith for that.
Sure, Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel caused the mess, but Smith’s careless decision to play in the Gator Bowl last year likely cost Ohio State a chance at the National Championship this season. And he has pretty much admitted as much.
Smith told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last December that Ohio State made a “miscalculation” when it failed to anticipate the NCAA handing Ohio State a postseason ban. And imposing their own bowl ban last year — when OSU instead elected to play in the meaningless Gator Bowl against Florida — may have convinced the NCAA not to impose a one-year postseason ban. The NCAA often hands down less harsh penalties when an institution sanctions itself properly.
“I never thought about this year,” Smith told the newspaper last December. “I was pretty confident, frankly, when you look at the way we looked at the facts and considered things. That’s why I’m so surprised and disappointed. But when you looked at it the way we did, we didn’t think it was possible.”
That’s right. Even though most of the country “looked” at the two-year postseason ban USC received in 2010 and “considered” that a likely punishment for Ohio State, Smith didn’t think any postseason ban was possible. What’s more, he went against what the Ohio State fan base cared about more: 2012. Essentially, he chose to reward a 6-6 team with an exhibition game in Jacksonville instead of giving his 2012 team a chance to compete for a national title. As a result, Ohio State failed to sell out it’s 12,750 Gator Bowl ticket allotment, returning about 5,000 of them.
“I know that Buckeye Nation is all about next year and looking forward to winning a national championship, and that is right,” Smith told the Plain Dealer. “But when you think about Michael Brewster and Andrew Sweat and those young people, you don’t want to deny them that opportunity. We have young people who have earned that right to play in a bowl. I know our fans want to see us in a BCS bowl and winning national championships, and they are a great support group, but at the end of the year these young men earned this right to play in a Jan. 2 game.”
Apparently the 2012 Buckeyes, which have already won more games than the 2011 squad, haven’t earned that right.
Congrats To Wisconsin
Gene Smith’s “miscalculation” has been Bret Bielema’s gain. Despite a slow start to the season, the Badgers are almost a lock for the Big Ten Championship Game after beating Purdue last weekend. Wisconsin may very well end up losing two more games (including a home date against the Buckeyes Nov. 17), but it hardly matters. Does anyone actually think Purdue, Indiana or Illinois will catch Wisconsin? No way.
The truth is, the Badgers have turned a corner and might end up winning the conference. But that just makes Big Ten fans feel worse. While the conference continues to get criticized, we could be talking about a great race between Wisconsin and Ohio State on the Leaders side.
The Nov. 17 clash in Madison could have been a de facto Leaders championship game and a must-win for a Buckeyes team trying to go undefeated and reach the BCS National Championship Game (seriously, it’s possible OSU will be the only undefeated team in the country remaining Nov. 17). Instead, it’s game between a team not eligible for the postseason and a team already headed to Indy.
Seven weeks in, it’s still hard to get a gauge on Northwestern. The ‘Cats probably should have won at Penn State, but instead sit at 6-1 with a 2-1 Big Ten record.
Now the schedule gets real. After back-to-back home games against Nebraska and Iowa, they’ll have a bye before back-to-back road trips to the state of Michigan. All four of those games are Legends Division games. I could see Northwestern going 3-1 in that stretch. But I could also see the Wildcats going 0-4.
Winning this week against the Cornhuskers would be very significant, but it would still make the Nov. 10 road trip to Michigan a must-win because the Wolverines would hold the tiebreaker otherwise.
I think Northwestern will beat Nebraska Saturday in Evanston, but until this team proves differently, it’s hard to imagine the ‘Cats have the defense to win enough key games late in the season. Haven’t we seen this story before?
– There’s no Hope in West Lafayette. Danny Hope’s entire tenure at Purdue came down to last week’s home game against Wisconsin and his team didn’t even show up. It’s one thing to lose a close game, but to get run over by a team struggling establish the run all season was unacceptable. I can’t see how Purdue could possibly stick with Hope after this season.
– Notre Dame is back. And not just because the Irish are 6-0. No, you can tell the Irish are back because the haters are back. When Notre Dame earned a No. 5 BCS ranking Sunday, the Irish haters were out in full force on Twitter. Look, I know this team isn’t the best team in the country, but Notre Dame is a pretty good football team. And if the Irish finish 10-2, they’re worthy of the Fiesta Bowl selecting them with the first BCS at-large pick.
– After West Virginia’s debacle at Texas Tech last weekend, I have a new Heisman front-runner: Manti Te’o. I don’t know why some refuse to consider a defensive player, but Te’o has been the most dominant player on an undefeated team. Last week I had Geno Smith as my favorite (how could you not?), and he may very well return to the No. 1 spot with a great performance against No. 4 Kansas State this weekend, but this week I give the nod to Te’o.
– Speaking of the Heisman, there’s another thing Gene Smith screwed up. It’s great that Michael Brewster and Andrew Sweat got to go to the Gator Bowl and all, but Braxton Miller might lose out on the Heisman Trophy this year because the Buckeyes are ineligible. There’s nothing saying he can’t win it, but Ohio State is not getting the attention it deserves because it’s ineligible — thus, Miller is not getting the attention he deserves. I have him right there with Geno Smith and Manti Te’o, but I’m afraid most voters do not.
– Thursday night: Oregon at Arizona State > Seahawks at 49ers. That is all.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.