Every conference has a down year or two, and the Big Ten is in the middle of one hell of down year right now.
No. 10 Michigan State’s embarrassing 20-3 loss to No. 20 Notre Dame now means there are no Big Ten teams that look (as of Week 3) like they can win a Rose Bowl, let alone a BCS championship.
Michigan, thought to be back on the upswing among traditional powers, was ripped apart by Alabama in Week 1; Nebraska’s early-season loss to No. 22 UCLA leads us to believe it’s another 9-4 season in Lincoln; defending Big Ten champ Wisconsin has been… well… the Badgers needed Utah State miss a field goal to beat the Aggies.
We’ll just leave it at that.
Even the Big Ten’s best option right now, No. 12 Ohio State, is ineligible to compete in the Big Ten championship and a postseason game because of NCAA sanctions, and the Buckeyes didn’t look particularly strong against Cal on Saturday, either.
Yes, we know. There are some of you — particularly in the Southeastern quadrant of this great country — who called this little factoid before the season began. We apologize, and we promise to read your emails more carefully next time.
But the reality is that there are no Big Ten teams carrying the flag for a conference ridiculed for being too slow, too old-fashioned. You know, “old man football.” To put it into perspective, Big Ten teams have a combined four wins over BCS conference opponents. Three of those are courtesy of Northwestern.
There are two times when conferences get to whip out their measuring stick: nonconference games and bowl season. So far, the Big Ten’s coming up short — way short — in the former category.
In the midst of reports that he had a physical altercation with one of his Tennessee players during summer camp this year, Butch Jones labeled the speculation “absolutely ridiculous.”
Apparently, his bosses agree with the head coach.
At a board meeting Thursday, UT-Knoxville chancellor Jimmy Cheek stated that he and athletic director Dave Hart had done their “due diligence” in investigating the accusations that Jones and senior offensive lineman Mack Crowder were involved in some type of physical skirmish during practice this past August. The end result of interviews with Jones, coaches and players was the conclusion that there was nothing to the reports and message-board rumors.
“There’s been a lot of rumor and misinformation on social media and message boards about an alleged incident during football practice,” Cheek said according to GoVols247.com‘s Wes Rucker. “It’s not our practice to respond to rumors, but I thought it was important to let you know that we’ve done our due diligence and Dave Hart and I are very confident there was no inappropriate conduct with any players or coaches.”
Shortly after Cheek spoke at the board meeting, Crowder took to Twitter with a series of missives that speaks around the issue.
Michigan played without its leading rusher in Week 5. The Wolverines are hoping there won’t be a repeat in Week 6.
De'Veon Smith sustained a lower-leg injury in the Week 4 win over BYU and didn’t travel with the team for last Saturday’s win over Maryland. Smith has been practicing with his teammates throughout the first few days of this week, and head coach Jim Harbaugh is guardedly optimistic that the running back will be available for what’s turned into a huge Big Ten matchup with Northwestern Saturday in the Big House.
“He’s practicing and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’s going to stay good and be ready to play,” Harbaugh said during a radio appearance Thursday morning. “But we’ll (keep) looking at that every day.”
Despite essentially missing a game and a half, Smith currently leads the Wolverines with 331 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He’s added four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown coming out of the backfield the first four games.
Should Smith be unable to go again, the Wolverines have three other backs with at least 100 yards on the ground: Ty Isaac (187, 7.2 yards per carry), Drake Johnson (125, 4.2 ypc) and Derrick Green (100, 3.3 ypc).
In addition to Smith, Harbaugh is hopeful Channing Stribling will be available this weekend as well. The starting cornerback didn’t play against the Cougars because of injury