1. We're halfway through the season. Practically the entire national media has declared that the Big Ten is having a down year. Is this cyclical, or is the conference actually becoming less and less relevant? What is your team doing to enhance or destroy the conference's reputation?
For the record, this is a down year for the Big Ten, OSU excluded. Take a look at the standings. Illinois and Indiana are two of the best teams in the Conference. Wisconsin lost to Illinois after struggling against UNLV, the Citadel, and Iowa. Speaking of Iowa, Lou Holttttth picked them to win the Big Ten, and instead they are an unmitigated disaster at 2-4. Penn State has fallen from 10th to unranked. If you look at the Blogpoll, AP, or coaches polls Ohio State is the ONLY Big Ten team in the top ten and should be the only Big Ten team in the top 15. That qualifies as a down year.
Yeah? Answer The Question. Who's Responsible For The Biggest Offense There Smart Guy?
Michigan is one of the main offenders in the destruction of the Big Ten's reputation. You can't be ranked #4 or #5 and lose to a D1-AA team at home without the repercussions being felt by everyone in your conference. Getting blown out by Oregon, albeit a good Oregon team the next week doesn't help either. I'm still on the fence as to whether Michigan's 2-0 conference record is good or bad for the conference. Yes it's good that a perennial favorite is righting itself, but it makes it hard to claim the conference is tough when one of it's premier teams was manhandled by a BCS worthy team and a team that can't qualify for the BCS. So if you're looking to place some blame it's easy to look at Ann Arbor.
However, the blame should not stop there. Iowa's collapse is almost without explanation. Penn State going from 10th to unranked is partially Morelli's fault, but a good deal of the blame lies on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Wisconsin was incredibly overrated, but their early season struggles against crappy opponents didn't help anything. There's plenty o' blame to go around, but Michigan deserves credit for being the accelerant in the arson of the Big Ten.
The Big Ten Season So Far
Despite all of this, the conference is hardly becoming irrelevant. This is a down year in the midst of a serious change in college football. Face it, more scholarships at more institutions, growing revenues for football programs, and the cyclical nature of football means every conference in the country is going have some problems. Look at the Big XII. Texas is in free fall. The Big XII North, with the exception of Missouri (who I completely missed in my preview) is a blackhole. Cincinnati, UConn and USF are at the top of the Big East. The ACC, usually as good a conference as any in the country, is falling apart at the seams as the big names continue to struggle. Even the SEC is a little screwy this year (Kentucky and South Carolina are contenders).
The Big Ten will be fine. If you look at the talent that graduated last year there's reason for the drop off. 32 Big Ten players were drafted last year, six of which went in the first round. The ACC lost 31 and the SEC lost 42, you'll note things are a tad bit screwy there too. This doesn't count the UFA's that went to the league or the depth guys that are now working desk jobs. A lot of good players left a lot of teams, and we're feeling it this year. However, if you look at the recruiting classes being brought in by Big Ten schools you'll see that the next few years ought to be a lot of fun to watch.
2. Illinois is winning football games. Football games! Illinois! How much longer will we have to put up with this crap?
Um, for a while. Illinois has a great stadium, terrific facilities, a boat load of money, and (finally) a coach who can take advantage of it. Only the school's incompetence in failing to hire a decent head coach has held the program back. Now all that money and frustration has been channeled by someone who is proving to be a capable coach and Hand of God type recruiter. Water skiing or otherwise, fear Zook.
All Ur Big Ten R Belong to Me!
3. I'm a man! I'm 32! For you, fair Big Ten Blogger, where does the line get drawn when, as Sunday Morning QB eloquently states, "second-guessing the split-second decisions of college kids under extreme physical duress"? Hypothetically speaking, would you settle for saying that your underwhelming quarterback "simply isn't performing well and needs to be replaced", or would you call him "a functional retard that is one drool cup shy of riding the short bus to practice"?
To be honest, it's a line I've crossed more times than I care to admit. I do try to keep the venom to a minimum, but if something clever (or at least something I perceive to be clever) filters into my brain in describing a particular player, well, sometimes I can't resist writing it down and clicking the "publish" button.
90% of the time I will avoid the "million dollar arm and a five cent head" assessment of these kids unless something so glaring stupid shows up on my radar screen. Penn State's brawl, the despicable acts of several former Gophers, a Michigan player beating the crap out of someone for no apparent reason are all examples of the "short bus" vernacular being used in an intentionally derogatory manner and deservingly so.
On the other hand, you've gotta do something special for me to break the "short bus" glass for play on the field. These kids are doing something I tried to do but could not. They have physical gifts I can only wish I had at their age, so it's hard for me to criticize them too harshly when they're making tackles and I'm on my fifth beer. This isn't to say I haven't done it. I have. And it ain't the best way to convey a point.
4. Finally, a quick two-part question. Which player or players on your team have you been pleasantly surprised with this season, and what is the most important game remaining on your schedule?
a) Despite Michigan's troubles early in the season defending the pass, I have to point to two defensive backs that have impressed me the most this year. Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren. There was a lot of consternation among the Michigan faithful regarding Trent's ascension to the No. 1 CB thrown. Face it. He'd been burnt crispy by OSU and USC. This year, through 6 games, I've thought of him maybe twice. That's a really, really good thing when you're talking about a corner. Opposite him, freshman CB Donovan Warren has been thrown at by every opponent and has handled himself the way you'd expect out of a 5* recruit. Frankly, he's better as a freshman than Trent was as a Junior. While he's not good enough now to be a No. 1, he looks like he's going to be the next great one at corner for Michigan. Honorable mention to Brandon Graham who is wreckin' fools with 7 sacks.
b) Biggest Game? Ohio State. Every year. No matter what.