Ready for another thrilling weekend of Big Ten football?
How about a single thrilling weekend of Big Ten football?
Sorry, not yet. For the eighth straight week, this conference has managed to bury itself under the category “in other games played” instead of creating any sort of national buzz.
Five league games are set for Saturday. The point spreads: 9, 13, 13, 17 and 27Ĺ.
This season started with a lackluster September of nonconference games. Aside from the three games against overrated Notre Dame, the only thing close to a marquee game was UCLA at Nebraska. And we know how that went.
Maybe it’s just as well the Big Ten scheduled “down’’ this year. The league’s record against other BCS conference foes was 9-8. Against the three biggest name opponents in that group (Notre Dame, UCLA, Arizona State), the Big Ten went 1-4.
The biggest day in the sun was when ESPN “College GameDay” visited Northwestern for its matchup against Ohio State.
The game — a 40-30 OSU win — lived up to the hype. The downside was with that victory, the Buckeyes put a stranglehold on the Leaders Division with two months to go.
Even when the Big Ten gets to some scheduling meat in November, no games are played at night in that month. That’s a major fail in recruiting because prospects struggle to get to day games after playing their own game the night before.
A conference official told me that Commissioner Jim Delany “really values” the 2:30 p.m. time slot.
That’s hard to fathom with the avalanche of midafternoon games — especially when your league isn’t exactly dazzling the country with its play. Late afternoon and early evening games often end up as the games fans talk about the most.
“The goal is to have top-level, A-plus types of games every week of the season, and really build toward a championship crescendo,” Big Ten Associate Commissioner Mark Rudner told ESPN.com when the 2018 and 2019 schedules were released this week.
That goal isn’t being met now, nor does it look like it will be hit in the future.
One way to juice interest in your league is to play conference games early in the season. But in 2016, no league game is set before Oct. 1.
In 2017, there are three conference games in the first three weeks, and none is must-see TV (Indiana-Ohio State, Michigan-Purdue, Nebraska-Rutgers). In 2018 and 2019, only two games each are set in the first three weeks of the season, again with little buzz (Purdue-Northwestern, Rutgers-Ohio State, Indiana-Ohio State and Rutgers-Iowa).
These aren’t the signs of a league ready to make a splash as the college football playoff era begins.
Saturday’s Big Ten games
Iowa (4-2, 1-1) at No. 4 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0), 2:30 p.m. ABC: This is what passes for a Game of the Week in the Big Ten. A lot has been made of the Hawkeyes’ defensive improvement. It is better. But if Michigan State could score 26 in Iowa City, how many will Ohio State score at home? Ohio State 42, Iowa 17
Indiana (3-3, 1-1) at Michigan (5-1, 1-1), 2:30 p.m. BTN: The Wolverines have won 17 straight in this series, but No. 18 isn’t guaranteed. Michigan’s offense is a mess. Indiana can score but has a weak defense. If this turns into a shootout, an upset isn’t out the question. Michigan 38, Indiana 30
Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) at Northwestern (4-2, 0-2), 11 a.m. ESPN2: After two straight losses to tough opponents, Northwestern must win this game to continue to hold Legends Division title hopes. Are quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark healthy? Minnesota will play again without head coach Jerry Kill, who is on medical leave. Northwestern 28, Minnesota 13
No. 25 Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1) at Illinois (3-2, 0-1), 7 p.m. BTN: Two companion statistics will define this game. Wisconsin is fifth nationally in rushing offense (298.2 yards). Illinois is 98th in rushing defense. Wisconsin 38, Illinois 14
Purdue (1-5, 0-2) at Michigan State (5-1, 2-0), 11 a.m., BTN: No way to sugarcoat this one. It’s the stink bomb of the week. I shudder to think what Michigan State’s national-leading defense will do to Purdue true freshman quarterback Danny Etling. Michigan State 50, Purdue 0