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 If I had to pick one word to describe this year’s Big Ten season. . . how about ``Plodding?’’

This week’s two major polls say Michigan and Ohio State are the nation’s second and third best teams, right after Georgia. When the first official College Football Playoff rankings come out on Tuesday, both will be right in the thick of the chase for the Final-Four slots.

There’s only one problem: There are games to be played.

At this point, I don’t get too excited about this stuff. It’s fun for fans to ponder..

But let’s review: As good as Michigan has looked, what is the Wolverines’ best win? Minnesota 52-10? Nebraska 45-7? The latest victim was Michigan State, hammered 49-0. Stomping on people is nice. But the Michigan routs also are an indicator of how weak the Big Ten is beyond the Big Three.

Let’s see what happens on Nov. 11 at Penn State and against Ohio State in Ann Arbor on Nov. 25. Then we can ponder rankings.

Ohio State, at least, has smash-mouth quality wins at Notre Dame and against Penn State. Even Saturday’s grinding 24-10 win at Wisconsin—the injury-riddled Badgers were only down 17-10 late in the game—was against a better opponent than anyone Michigan has played.

The complaint against the Buckeyes seems to be that their offense isn’t rat-a-tat explosive. Which is a legitimate gripe.

I kind of think Ohio State will be capable of cranking up its attack in the most important games ahead. Young QB Kyle McCord is gaining experience. The Buckeyes are getting healthier. And receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is worthy of a trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

So. . . I have no problem with the rest of the college-football-watching world marveling at how good Michigan and Ohio State are. They have played exceptional football so far. And they will be interesting to watch as the season reaches a crescendo.

But don’t be surprised if those same pundits are saying the Wolverines and Buckeyes were over-rated when they stumble. 


Now here’s why this has been a plodding season. Yes, it's very nice for the Big Ten office in Rosemont that the league has three worthy teams—Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

But there haven’t been very many must-watch games.

I don’t mean to diminish Michigan’s relentless string of routs. But unless your wardrobe is filled with Maize and Blue, that’s not fun football to watch.

Ohio State’s low-octane attack has made for some drama by keeping games close. But other than Penn State’s trip to Columbus, the Nittany Lions haven’t played any games filled with thrills and spills.

A big part of the problem is that the Big Ten West is under-nourished.

Wisconsin may yet become a major power under Luke Fickell. But expectations that that would happen this fall have proved to be inflated.

Iowa’s offense is so lame that it has become a laughingstock—and deservedly so. The nepotism of Kirk Ferentz keeping his son, Brian, as offensive coordinator is reaching new levels of concern.

The over/under for Saturday’s Iowa-Northwestern game is 29.5 points, a modern-day low among bookmakers. It’s appropriate that the game will be played at Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs: The baseball score that is anticipated.will fit better on the Cubs’ venerable scoreboard.

On the bright side for NU, the Wildcats improved to 4-4 with their 33-27 win over Maryland. Interim coach David Braun, who stepped in when Pat Fitzgerald was fired after a shocking hazing scandal, has gone in one season from North Dakota State defensive coordinator to a dark-horse candidate for Big Ten coach of the year. 

At 2-3, Northwestern is only one game behind the four Big Ten West co-leaders. Traditional ``powers’’ Wisconsin and Iowa are joined by Minnesota and Nebraska.

The Gophers are buoyed by their throwback 12-10 win at Iowa, which has dialed down the grumbles about rah-rah coach P.J. Fleck being more sizzle than steak.

The Cornhuskers, on the other hand, have been so down that 5-3, including their 3-2 Big Ten mark, looks like up to them. All credit to Matt Ruhle, who’s off to a good start at restoring a slumbering program. With a win at Michigan State this week, Nebraska can become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2016.

All of that said, despite a full slate of seven Big Ten games this Saturday, only hardcore fans will find much of interest in games where they don’t have an alma mater.

Will outsiders be interested in Illinois-Minnesota? Wisconsin-Indiana? Even Ohio State-Rutgers, Penn State-Maryland and Purdue-Michigan, which aren’t likely to be competitive, figure to be yawners.

For sheer curiosity, the leather-helmet meeting between Iowa and Northwestern in an old-time baseball park stands out.

That’s why the Big Ten, despite having three quality teams at the top, seems poised to continue plodding through this season.