1)The national media is using the Big Ten Conference as a punching bag in 2008 ranking us somewhere between the Big East and the MAC. Based on Ohio State's no-show, Purdue's "APPLE!!!" and Michigan's debacle, it is redemption week in Big Ten Country. However, several teams have very respectable, yet no-name teams (ie. Troy, Central Michigan, Ball State). Tell us how the Big Ten will respond this week in the final week before conference play.
If last week was the week for the Big Ten to step up and show that it was elite (spoiler alert: it didn't), this week is the week for the Big Ten to prove that it doesn't belong in the dregs. Minnesota will most likely get some measure of vengeance on Florida Atlantic, Penn State and Ohio State should destroy Temple and Ohio respectively. Purdue and CMU meet in a Motor City Bowl rematch. The three biggest games, in no order, will be: Iowa at Pittsburgh (Will Dave Wannstedt get fired in the second half? Can Iowa keep up the momentum against a second straight BCS opponent?), Notre Dame at Michigan State (Can Notre Dame win a game against a BCS team that won't turn the ball over eight times? Will Charlie Weis' leg explode and take out the first three rows?) and Ball State at Indiana (Will Indiana win decisively this time? Why have I not heard big things out of Kellen Davis yet?) The Big Ten is favored in all these games except the Iowa game, in which the Hawkeyes are one point underdogs. Expect the Big Ten to go 7-1 this week with the loss coming in Bloomington or Pittsburgh.
2)The conference standings look like someone took the 2007 results and flipped it upside down. Which of the undefeated teams are contenders and which are pretenders (another way of saying which teams have put lipstick on a pig)? Recalibrate your preseason rankings and tell us who the conference favorites are now.
There are currently six undefeated teams in the Big Ten. Two of these teams are definitely contenders: Penn State (Maybe JayPa wasn't spending all his time blogging for Obama after all) and Wisconsin (have the single most impressive victory of the Big Ten teams at this point, beating Fresno State and the officials). Two of these teams are definitely pretenders: Minnesota (The games against Northern Illinois and Montana State were way too close to call them a contender), and Indiana (The Ball State will tell a lot. I'm guessing it won't be good.) The other two teams, Iowa and Northwestern, could go either way. Iowa has looked impressive getting to 3-0, except for their passing game. If they can't run the ball, can they really trust Christensen or Stanzi to put points on the board? Northwestern might be able to make a run, but that four point win against Duke doesn't sit well with me, even if it was on the road.
3)Javon Ringer has emerged as the early season best-bet Heisman hopeful from the Big Ten. Real deal or non-conference smoke screen? Does anyone from the Big Ten have a prayer for the Heisman, or is it too late?
I would love to be bullish on Ringer here, and give you umpteen reasons on why he will win the Heisman; however, I can't, for three reasons. One, if he keeps averaging 30 carries a game plus kickoff returns, his durability will become an issue again. Second and probably most likely, I don't believe the offensive line can block consistently against the upper tier Big Ten games (see the Cal game for an example of this in action). Third, the Heisman usually goes to a player on a top tier team. MSU will have to finish strong, and their last three games are against Wisconsin, Purdue, and Penn State on the road. If MSU has another 7-5 season, it'll be because Ringer underperformed. From the research I've done, I've found the Heisman trophy tends to be awarded to players who perform. As for anyone else, if Beanie Wells doesn't bounce back immediately, I don't think anyone has a chance. Curtis Painter blew his chance for the most part vs. Oregon, and P.J. Hill isn't scoring the amount of touchdowns one would expect for a Heisman candidate.
4)After three weeks it is time to give your team a new slogan. What is it and why is it what it is?
Michigan State - Smash Mouth Football, but Only When it Works.
For as much ado as their was last year about a return to a ground-based attack (and rightfully so: 580 runs compared to 393 passes last year), those plans seemed to go out the window when Cal started to stifle Ringer. The Spartans passed 48 times that game, compared to 30 rushes. That game marked the first time under Dantonio that MSU passed more then they ran. The EMU and FAU games marked a return to the previous offensive game plan of "run Ringer up their throats until he breaks down or scores", but it makes me wonder what will happen if MSU gets the run consistently stopped again - will they stay committed to the run, or will Hoyer play Five Dollars with his receivers?
5)By now, you've likely adopted a favorite non Big Ten team to watch. Flex your football worldliness by convincing your fellow Big Ten kool-aid drinkers to watch your "other" team.
Texas Tech. You know about Mike Leach's dream of wearing a cutlass, raising the skull and bones, and hitting the high seas. You know about the offense on cocaine. As if that wasn't enough, take a gander at this tidbit from a New York Times article on Leach:
When he learned that a pirate ship was a functional democracy; that pirates disciplined themselves; that, loathed by others, they nevertheless found ways to work together, the pirate ship became a metaphor for his football team. Last year, after a loss to Texas A.&M. in overtime, Leach hauled the team into the conference room on Sunday morning and delivered a three-hour lecture on the history of pirates. Leach read from his favorite pirate history, "Under the Black Flag," by David Cordingly (the passages about homosexuality on pirate ships had been crossed out).
See? You can watch Texas Tech football without fear of having your sexuality threatened. Let's face it, Mike Leach knows we're all one mention of homosexuality away from dissolving a marriage and moving to Fire Island. CAN'T YOU SEE MIKE LEACH IS TRYING TO PROTECT OUR WAY OF LIFE AMERICA!