I don’t mind that there’s parity and mediocrity in the Big Ten West. Which is having a brutal year even by its modest standards.
But would it be asking too much to occasionally play some interesting football?
It isn’t merely that semi-prodigal son Bret Bielema, who had gotten Illinois off to a rousing 7-1 start under, is losing his touch. The Illinois native who wasn’t satisfied with going to three straight Rose Bowls at Wisconsin and took a wrong turn to Arkansas really seemed to be onto something big in Central Illinois. Until the last two Saturdays.
That 31-24 loss to Purdue was excruciating. Just a week earlier, the Illini had turned into peanut butter, to borrow a phrase from a top-40 Chicago DJ of my youth, against Michigan State.
And now the Illini are going to Ann Arbor. Phew.
This is reminiscent of Illinois’ 2011 second-half meltdown. In Ron Zook’s last season the Illini started 6-0 and finished 6-6.
I remember two things about sitting through those 12 performances. One, I felt bad for the Zooker, who was a good old-fashioned football coach. Two, it gave me an opportunity to write one of my favorite leads as a sportswriter.
To wit….``Six of one. Half a dozen of the other.’’
Then again, Wisconsin’s inoffensive trip to Iowa on Saturday, a 24-10 loss, might have been more unwatchable than the Champaign showdown. Iowa scored one touchdown on an interception. Another was set up by a blocked punt.
And Kirk Ferentz doesn't want to hear any grumbling about his offense
One possible explanation for all of the Big Ten West bungling. Nobody wants to go to Indianapolis and play Ohio State or Michigan.
Don’t ask me to handicap the Big Ten West. Just know this. . .
Purdue, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota are tied for first at 4-3.
Wisconsin alone in fifth at 3-4. I only mention this because it could get very messy.
And these guys have—gulp—a lot of games left against each other.
Have your Big Ten West tie-breaker rules handy.
Having said way too much about the Big Ten West, on to other things.
@ There’s not much to say about the Big Ten East until Michigan and Ohio State settle their differences in Columbus on Nov. 26. The Wolverines and Buckeyes have merely been polishing their act all fall.
@ Shed a tear for the Pac-12.
It was an exciting Saturday for Washington, which upset No. 6 Oregon 37-34, and Arizona, which stunned No. 12 UCLA 34-28. But it was a disaster for West Coast hopes of landing a College Football Playoff berth.
The only candidate left standing is No. 8 USC, which has still to play crosstown rival UCLA and historic rival Notre Dame. With their own highest hopes dashed, both will be able to play free and easy—while the Trojans try to run that gauntlet to making a playoff case.
Then again, Lincoln Riley has done a marvelous job of turning around USC to this point. All that cash to lure him out of Oklahoma is looking like smart money now.
@ No. 4. TCU, the little Horned Frog that could, did it again. A seven-point underdog, TCU went to Austin and defeated Texas 17-10. If the Frogs, who have clinched a Big 12 title-game berth, win their final three, they look like a lock for the four-team playoff.
But you never know.
@ This season once again is setting up for the Elephant in the Room. And we're not talking about the Alabama mascot. The SEC again is poised for two teams in the playoff if LSU knocks off Georgia in the conference championship game.
And under the dubious way the four playoff slots are handed out, Tennessee could have a strong resume.
Then again, if Michigan and Ohio State play a tight classic contest, the Big Ten would have a legitimate case for two teams in the Final Four.
Bottom line: College football keeps marching toward a world where there’s the SEC and the Big Ten. And everybody else.
Honestly, the old system where the bowls matched the teams—and sometimes got No. 1 vs. No. 2—is looking better and better.