By Chris Emma-
(CBS) Inside the lavish new Big Ten Conference offices, there’s a little bit of everything. In the impressive lobby, there’s a museum honoring all 14 teams, murals on each wall and even a Fogo de Chão.READ MORE: West Town Area Neighbors Band Together To Catch Man Suspected In Years' Worth Of Package Thefts
As the old saying goes, money can’t buy happiness, a harsh reality for commissioner Jim Delany. The Big Ten is a total trainwreck on the field.
Don’t sugarcoat it one bit, because the Big Ten had arguably its worst Saturday ever last weekend. Its best team, Michigan State, was run over by a better Oregon team. Its most storied names, Michigan and Ohio State, were each humiliated. Two MAC teams beat the Big Ten — where have you gone, Northwestern and Purdue? — and two others nearly did, too. Oh, and something called McNeese State nearly won at Nebraska.
This is the oldest, most prestigious conference in the country, and it lost five games by a combined 93 points. Where did this thing go wrong?
If you’re looking for a silver lining, Illinois, Maryland and Rutgers are 2-0. It’s the bizarro Big Ten! For an actual silver lining, this season is still just two weeks in. It’s no time to panic.
The beauty of the new College Football Playoff is that it allows four teams a chance for the title, not just two. A season isn’t over with just one loss. Take Michigan State for example, fresh off its throttling from Oregon. The Spartans can run the table, as they did last season, to a conference crown and represent the conference in the playoff.
By that logic, 13 Big Ten teams can be considered in contention. So the season is just beginning! How’s that for an optimistic view?
Delany needs such happy thoughts after a miserable weekend for his conference. Or maybe a Picanha steak at Fogo de Chão will do.
1.) With one surprising turn, the Big Ten race got a bit more interesting. The announcement of Penn State’s sanctions being removed means the Nittany Lions are now eligible for the postseason, including the Big Ten title game. Sure, Michigan State is the favorite to win the East Division, but Penn State could give the Spartans a run. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is emerging as an elite player, even without the guidance of Bill O’Brien. As he goes, Penn State goes, and it could make a run for Indianapolis.
2.) At Rutgers, the birthplace of college football, a new era is about to begin. The Scarlet Knights are set to host their first Big Ten game, and the stage is set for a big night. Both Rutgers and Penn State are 2-0, have big egos at the head-coaching position and are natural regional rivals. It’s a night Rutgers has been readying for, and it should be quite memorable as the Big Ten’s new home on the East Coast seems a bit more real.
3.) The optimistic Pat Fitzgerald finally snapped, and the Wildcats’ struggles seem to be weighing on him. Northwestern’s practices this week — with no game to prepare for this Saturday — were intense. Every error was punished with up-downs and sprints. The team even practiced in the pouring rain and gusting winds Wednesday. “We’re an embarrassment to everyone that’s put on the purple and white,” Fitzgerald later said. His frustration is evident, finally meeting that of the fans.
4.) With two uneasy wins in store, Illinois is set for a real challenge with a trip to the Pacific Northwest and a date with Washington. This is the time where we see what the Fighting Illini can do. Is this the turnaround season for Tim Beckman? This analyst believes Illinois will be in it until the end, but can it pull out the win in Washington? This will be one heck of a test.
5.) The Ohio State defensive line that couldn’t contain Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer is getting a big boost. Star defensive end Noah Spence is set to return, but it’s likely one game too late. Spence could’ve surely made a difference for the Buckeyes in their loss to the Hokies. His impact is a constant with each game, and Spence returns to a team that’s 1-1 and has hopes lingering for a promising season.
6.) A Heisman Trophy contender is emerging in Nebraska. Pay attention to Ameer Abdullah, the Cornhuskers’ speedster in the backfield. He followed up a performance of nearly 250 rushing yards in Week 1 with the game-winning 58-yard score last week, an amazing effort to beat defenders and find the end zone as Nebraska avoided the upset. Abdullah is an incredible player, one that somehow snuck out of Alabama without recruiting attention from the SEC. Nebraska is now promoting Abdullah with packs of Double-A batteries for the media. “Powering Nebraska Football since 2011,” the pack says, and 2014 seems to be his big year.
7.) The latest example of Purdue’s demise is its most embarrassing yet. A 21-point home loss handed by Central Michigan is yet another scar for the Boilermakers, now 2-12 under Darrell Hazell. And the Chippewas were supposed to present an easy win in West Lafayette. There’s no reason to think Notre Dame won’t throttle Purdue in Indianapolis on Saturday, and the hits will keep coming. Hazell has the train on the right tracks, but this rebuild is a lot more difficult than most would’ve imagined.
8.) That seat is getting warmer for Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor. A humiliating 31-0 loss to rival Notre Dame is one that Michigan fans won’t soon forget. It’s seen as unacceptable to lose like that — arguably the worst regular-season setback this side of Appalachian State. Unless Hoke can start working some magic with his weary football team, it will likely cost his job at the end of the season.
9.) Want your Big Ten upset pick for this Saturday? Indiana travels to Bowling Green for a matchup with the Falcons. This seems to have all the makings of an upset, the latest MAC school to beat a Big Ten team. The Hoosiers have a dynamic offense and an anemic defense, while Bowling Green can move the football. Indiana will have to buckle down on defense to avoid a scare.
10.) The concern over Wisconsin’s first two games is warranted. The Badgers blew a game against LSU, then struggled for a half against Western Illinois. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy doesn’t seem to be getting any better, would-be starting quarterback Joel Stave is still managing a bout with the ‘Yips’ and coach Gary Andersen can’t establish tailback Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin’s defense appears strong, but the worries on offense are real.
Quote of the week
“No s–t. There’s a long line of that.” –Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, acknowledging fan frustration.
Big Ten power rankings
1.) Michigan State (1-1) — The loss to Oregon got ugly, but the Spartans are still best in the Big Ten.
2.) Ohio State (1-1) — It was one loss against a good Virginia Tech team, but sell your Buckeyes stock while you can.
3.) Iowa (2-0) — There’s nothing wrong with winning ugly. The Hawkeyes took care of Ball State and can mow down rival Iowa State this weekend.READ MORE: Small Private Plane Slides Off Runway At Midway Airport
4.) Nebraska (2-0) — The Huskers’ record would be more fairly assessed as 1.5-0 after sneaking past McNeese State.
5.) Maryland (2-0) — The Big Ten newcomers are legit. A win over West Virginia would back that statement.
6.) Penn State (2-0) — James Franklin has his Nittany Lions off to a strong start, and bowl eligibility is a reality. But sorry, cretins, the statue is still locked away.
7.) Wisconsin (1-1) — A bye week comes at a great time for the Badgers. Time to regroup and move forward.
8.) Rutgers (2-0) — The Big Ten opener against Penn State will prove whether the Scarlet Knights are for real.
9.) Michigan (1-1) — After scraping Devin Gardner off the Notre Dame Stadium turf, the Wolverines must bounce back. Playing Miami (Ohio) in the Big House is a good place to start.
10.) Minnesota (2-0) — A win over heavily favored TCU would have the Golden Gophers rising in these rankings, but that seems unlikely.
11.) Indiana (1-0) — The Hoosiers can’t overlook Bowling Green, which will be poised for an upset.
12.) Illinois (2-0) — The Pacific Northwest will be unwelcoming for the Fighting Illini, but Tim Beckman’s team has a chance for a big win.
13.) Northwestern (0-2) — Pat Fitzgerald talked about re-establishing the Wildcats’ identity this past offseason. It’s time to re-reestablish it during the bye week.
14.) Purdue (1-1) — After a brutal loss to Central Michigan, the Boilermakers battle Notre Dame. Remember what the Irish did to Michigan? It could be much worse this time.
West Virginia at Maryland (-3) — Maryland, 28-24
Indiana (-8) at Bowling Green — Bowling Green, 35-34
Kent State at Ohio State (-33) — Ohio State, 42-2
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan (-34) — Michigan, 45-10
Iowa State at Iowa (-11) — Iowa, 24-10
Minnesota at TCU (-16) — TCU, 28-20
Illinois at Washington (-13) — Washington, 34-31
Purdue at Notre Dame (-28) — Notre Dame, 49-0
Penn State (-4) at Rutgers — Rutgers, 21-17
Nebraska (-12) at Fresno State — Nebraska, 34-14MORE NEWS: Someone Stole More Than $500 From Her Chime Account, But Bank Wouldn't Reimburse Her Until CBS 2 Got Involved
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.