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Posted on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 6 a.m.

The Big Ten, nationally, is back to the middle of the pack again

By Michael Rothstein

At least it isn’t the ACC.

That’s what Big Ten coaches must be thinking as conference play begins this week. The goal was to have conference teams face early-season tests and overcome a bad bowl season the year before and re-establish conference credibility.

And we watched it fall on its face.

Big Ten football teams are a combined 24-8 this season, but that is a misleading record. For a reality check, note that the league is 1-2 against teams in the Top 25.

This year, again, USC knocked off Ohio State. Michigan State lost to Central Michigan and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. Cal beat Minnesota. Missouri knocked off Illinois.

Syracuse, woebegone, left-for-nothing in the Big East Syracuse, beat Northwestern a week after woebegone, left-for-nothing Eastern Michigan almost beat them.
Purdue lost, at home, to Northern Illinois.

At least no Big Ten teams lost to FCS schools, although Indiana really, really came close against Eastern Kentucky and Iowa blocked two last-second field goals to hold off FCS contender Northern Iowa. But hey, that’s better than the ACC, which had Virginia and Duke waxed by FCS foes William & Mary and Richmond.

Because a win is a win - or at least that’s what some coaches will tell you.

Meanwhile, conference favorite Penn State played nobody, a fact Joe Paterno lamented this week in his press conference.

Notice who isn’t on this list of ugliness or with a ton of questions: Michigan.

The Wolverines are the surprise of the Big Ten, so much so that they look like one of the contenders entering league play Saturday. The Wolverines have taken care of what they needed to, handily beating a pair of Mid-American Conference schools and beating Notre Dame in a last-minute, thrilling fashion.

Michigan is doing it with a freshman quarterback, Tate Forcier, a coach known for second-year turnarounds, Rich Rodriguez, and a defense that has been shaky, yet done enough for Michigan to win.

And Rodriguez is acting like all of this is happening just as he planned.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of surprises from us that we didn’t see in camp and that we didn’t see in the beginnings of spring practice,” Rodriguez said. “You know, I saw a very focused team in spring ball. They were really eager to learn and take the next step.”

There are issues surrounding Michigan. The Wolverines haven’t played on the road, and their defense has been shaky at times the past two weeks.

Even so, in the Big Ten, that might be good enough considering who else is undefeated.

Penn State, the class of the league, is doing what it needs to do. The Nittany Lions enter league play undefeated but, as Paterno said, untested after wins over Akron, Syracuse and Temple.

Wisconsin, another undefeated team, played a couple of uninspiring opponents and held on against Fresno State despite the Badgers being riddled with the flu. Indiana’s 3-0 start is mostly paper. The Hoosiers haven’t faced a challenge yet and don’t look like a top-tier team.

Iowa, actually, might be the second-most tested of the undefeated teams behind Michigan. Besides the aforementioned escape in the opener, the Hawkeyes handled Iowa State and Arizona fairly convincingly behind a typically strong defense and an offense finding itself without stud runner Jewel Hampton.

So what does all this mean?

It means the Big Ten, entering a time where most opponents are conference foes for the next two months, will have to wait until bowl season - again - to try and prove itself as anything other than a second-tier conference behind the SEC, Big 12 and Pacific 10.

Because the chance to do that in the regular season has long disappeared.

Michael Rothstein covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 11:44 a.m.

Hey Rothberger, for anyone who doesn't think "location, location, location" matters, let's invite USC to come play in Michigan Stadium in December. Better yet, since Delaney likes flexing his muscles as Big Ten Sports Commissioner, make sure that he gets a stipulation of "home field advantage for the higher ranked team" in any playoff system implemented to get rid of the Bowl, I mean BCS.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 10:55 p.m.

I'm not sure this articles proves anything??


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:43 a.m.

What? No comment about Mouton and Rodriguez?


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:41 a.m.

"For a reality check, note that the league is 1-2 against teams in the Top 25."??? What does that mean? What would you expect? How did other conferences do against top 25 teams?


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 8:59 a.m.

Maybe we can take in ND and get rid of the Suckeyes as they seem to be bringing the conference down.

FW Flyer

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 8:53 a.m.

Stucky, if ND joins the Big 10, that would take away a ton of Big 10 non conference wins.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 6:11 a.m.

Sorry, but the Big Ten isn't close to being "back" this year. Until the reworking of UM is complete and someone from the conference actually beats one of the prestiege conferences when it counts, the Big Ten is fourth out of six at best. At this point, I would put them tied with the ACC and ahead of the Big East. These things need to happen for the Big Ten to be a top conference again: 1. UM has to become truly elite; this is on the way. 2. PSU has to prove that they are "for real." 3. OSU has to modernize, with or without Tressel. 4. At least two of the "little eight" have to step up and become elite teams. 5. The Big Ten has to get rid of its fixation on bulky, cheesehead-type athletes and replace them with fast, explosive ones, exactly like UM is doing. When UM succeeds with the RR/Barwis approach, it will probably affect the entire conference, and we will see it evolve into a great conference again, but it's going to take longer than one year.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 5:51 a.m.

I find it ironic that everybody complained so loudly about UConn for the home opener next year, when we were expecting Virgina or Duke based on the analysis of BSC conference teams schedules. Anyway, nice to be part of the goods news for a change.