By Chris Emma-
(CBS) The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In the case of the Big Ten, it’s time to bust out every tool in the shed.
It’s time to solve this identity crisis, one that has humiliated the entire conference. How in the wild world of sports did the Big Ten fall so far?
Last week alone, the Big Ten lost to Bowling Green, West Virginia, TCU and Iowa State. Even Rutgers almost beat Penn Sta…oh, that’s right, it’s in this conference now. Yuck.
To solve this problem, we must ask a more important question: When did this become acceptable? Putting the obvious aside, that’s the greatest difference between the Big Ten and SEC. Down there, they don’t put up with this.
Big Ten schools are far too willing to accept bad football. Grace periods last too long, and the excuses follow. The next time a Big Ten university claims it’s more of a basketball school, call its bluff. That’s just a school not winning to invest in football.
These aren’t tiny charities we’re talking about. They’re major universities with millions and millions of dollars available. To win at the highest level, a program must invest in top-notch facilities, bring in the best coaches — not a flash-in-the-pan MAC success story — and each must expect to win.
Any idea why Bret Bielema — a Midwestern native with Big Ten ties — jumped ship to Arkansas and the SEC? It wasn’t to say Woo Pig Sooie! He had 5,156,863 million reasons to leave. Whether it was the right or wrong hire is up for debate, but Arkansas wanted to become an elite program. In order to do so, it paid the big money.
Baylor is a perfect example of a paid-for success story. It’s a program that had little to no football history, a rundown stadium and few accomplishments to celebrate. But it invested in a brilliant coach, Art Briles, and now plays in a state-of-the-art new facility. The Bears are now an elite program in the Big 12, historically dominated by just Oklahoma and Texas.
Speaking of those elite programs, check the polls lately? It’s filled with SEC teams, many of which have been accused of some under-the-table deals. Let’s be real, there are players getting paid, and it’s foolish to think otherwise. The Big Ten takes pride in doing things the right way, but what does that matter if it’s getting embarrassed each week? And if the premier talent is in the Southeast, then go find a coach with ties there. That’s what Penn State did with James Franklin, and it’s atop the Big Ten in 247Sports’ recruiting rankings.
No more excuses, because there are ways around them. Building a winner isn’t that hard, it just comes with a hefty price. That’s chunk change for most institutions.
If the Big Ten’s 14 schools want to win, they have to invest. Otherwise, each can be contemt in just being a basketball school.
1.) Julie Hermann did it again. This time, the embarrassing athletic director of Rutgers made a Jerry Sandusky joke. And this was days after she offered a public apology for Rutgers fans making quips about Sandusky. Hermann keeps stooping lower and lower every time she opens her mouth. It’s time for her to go. Hermann’s rap sheet is far too long. The Scarlet Knights don’t deserve the humiliation she constantly causes. Get her out of this job immediately. Go one step further and welcome back Tim Pernetti, who never should’ve been fired in the first place.
2.) In a sad set of circumstances, the battle between Nebraska and Miami is but a footnote on the college football slate. These two schools brought us some of the greatest games ever, two programs with storied traditions and championship pedigrees. Miami was the team of the ’80s, Nebraska was the team of the ’90s. But both have fallen from grace since, still looking for a way back to the top. In watching this game, one will look to the past and hope for more in the future.
3.) Let’s not jump off the Illinois train just yet. Sure, it was an ugly loss at Washington, then Tim Beckman talked and made it worse. “You take out 21 points on three plays and we’re in this game,” he said, evidently without irony. There’s really never a dull moment with the Fighting Illini, but I still believe there’s hope. This team will improve upon its rocky past two seasons and get the program a bit closer toward winning ways. West Lunt looks like the real deal, and the team still has Beckman’s back. Six wins remains a possibility, though it will be a challenge to get there.
4.) Oh, Iowa, what happened? The Hawkeyes were supposed to be a surprise in the Big Ten, a team poised to win 10 games, shake things up in the West Division and be in the run for a BCS bowl. That’s all still possible, of course, but how did they lose to lowly Iowa State? Coach Kirk Ferentz has way too much job security for a guy who has been wildly inconsistent the past few years, but he’s locked in through 2020 thanks to a contract that now seems like an overreaction. There was no reason for that thud to happen at Kinnick Stadium last Saturday, but it follows the trend of Iowa blunders in recent years.
5.) Let’s ponder it for a second: What if Northwestern loses to Western Illinois? It’s really not out of the realm, not with the way the Wildcats have played this season. Frankly, Northwestern can lose to anyone with its lack of execution and poor coaching tactics. But it shouldn’t Saturday, when the Wildcats will bounce back and end their skid. Just don’t totally rule it out, because anything can happen.
6.) I called it. Indiana lost to Bowling Green, an unforgivable blunder for the Hoosiers in a desperate season for coach Kevin Wilson. Why would Indiana play a MAC team on the road in the first place? There’s absolutely nothing to gain. No Big Ten team — even a lowly one like Indiana — should ever have to play a home-and-home with a MAC school. It’s a trap, and it caught the Hoosiers, likely in the form of another holiday season spent at home.
7.) As if Brady Hoke needed more bad news, the NCAA’s ruling that standout transfer Ty Isaac is ineligible is another blow to Michigan. The USC departure will be a star running back for the Wolverines when he suits up in the maize and blue, but it won’t be this year. Isaac has the abilities of a Reggie Bush, the size of a receiver. He will be a lethal weapon, but just not now. Tough break, Brady.
8.) Sell that stock in Minnesota, because the Golden Gophers are in trouble. If a beatdown at the hands of TCU wasn’t enough to prove it, the injury status of quarterback Mitch Leidner, who has an ailing knee, is reason for concern. And Leidner has struggled already, even at full health. Minnesota’s defense appears to be strong, but the offense is a great concern. Don’t expect much from the Gophers come Big Ten play.
9.) Purdue almost beat Notre Dame. Let that sink in for a second. The same Boilermakers that were baked at home by Central Michigan went toe to toe with the powerful Fighting Irish. It happens every year, where Purdue fights Notre Dame to the end. How can a team look so bad against a weak MAC team then nearly knock off a national power? Where’s the consistency for the Boilermakers? It’s hard to explain.
10.) The Big Ten slate this weekend features three games against FCS teams, while the majority of schools play inferior opponents. The scheduling needs to change, and it can’t be so accepted to play weak teams in the nonconference slate. It’s a lackluster set of games for this Saturday. Hopefully that changes down the road.
Quote of the week
“We’re a 2-1 team. That’s about what we look like. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not that smart.” — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
Big Ten power rankings
1.) Michigan State (1-1) — The Spartans should get right back on track with blowout over Eastern Michigan.
2.) Ohio State (2-1) — A beatdown of Kent State was just what the doctor ordered for the Buckeyes.
3.) Nebraska (3-0) — Watch out for the Cornhuskers, who appear to be the real deal. But they must avoid their annual letdown game.
4.) Penn State (3-0) — What a win for the Nittany Lions against Rutgers. Oh, and the statue is still locked away.
5.) Iowa (2-1) — If formatting allowed, there would be a giant dropoff to this spot. The Hawkeyes don’t look like a very good football team.
6.) Maryland (2-1) — The Terps were so close to a wild win at West Virginia. They’ll have to be a lot more polished moving forward.
7.) Wisconsin (1-1) — Bowling Green won’t be easy for the Badgers, even in Madison.
8.) Rutgers (2-1) — Julie Hermann aside, the Scarlet Knights have been respectable as members of the Big Ten.
9.) Michigan (2-1) — With how the Wolverines have fallen, would it really be an upset if Utah wins in the Big House?
10.) Minnesota (2-1) — The Golden Gophers would be lower in most conferences, but look at what’s beneath them.
11.) Indiana (1-1) — You just can’t lose to a MAC team. It’s not supposed to happen.
12.) Illinois (2-1) — With Washington behind them, the Fighting Illini must keep moving forward. Time to pounce on Texas State.
13.) Northwestern (0-2) — The Wildcats are still “an embarrassment to everyone that’s put on the purple and white,” coach Pat Fitzgerald says.
14.) Purdue (1-2) — A moral victory against Notre Dame still counts as a loss.
Iowa at Pittsburgh (-7) — Pittsburgh, 20-14
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State (-45) — Michigan State, 52-3
Western Illinois at Northwestern (Off) — Northwestern, 24-14
Southern Illinois at Purdue (Off) — Purdue, 31-20
Bowling Green at Wisconsin (-27) — Wisconsin, 24-20
Maryland at Syracuse (-2) — Maryland, 24-21
Utah at Michigan (-4) — Utah, 28-27
Rutgers at Navy (-7) — Navy, 21-14
UMass at Penn State (-27) — Penn State, 45-10
San Jose State at Minnesota (-10) — Minnesota, 20-10
Texas State at Illinois (-13) — Illinois, 42-24
Indiana at Missouri (-14) — Missouri, 41-30
Miami at Nebraska (-8) — Nebraska, 35-21
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter@CEmma670.