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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Wisconsin, Nebraska Leave the Picture

Well, when your marquee win comes against Vanderbilt, as highly as we all think of the Commodores, you haven’t had a good day. It was a terrible day for the Big Ten, actually – one of the conference’s worst non-conference weekends in recent memory, trumping last weekend, which was defined by only one bad loss, not multiple losses. It was one weak game after another, beginning at noon, gaining steam around midday and then culminating, at nearly midnight, by an unforgivably bad performance from a program once defined by the pride it took in getting stops on the defensive side of the ball. From this entire group, a clutch of sour showings tinged with feel-good victories, two losses stand out above the rest.

The day’s worst loss belongs to Wisconsin, which lost at Oregon State, 10-7, suffering its first non-conference loss during the regular season since losing at U.N.L.V. in 2003.

It turns out that losing a quarterback like Russell Wilson, several all-conference offensive linemen, many key figures on defense and a handful-plus assistant coaches has an adverse effect on a team. Who knew? The signs were there in the opener, when the Badgers struggled with Northern Iowa, but the loss to O.S.U. sends the message home with a bang.

The potential is still there for a successful season; remember that the Leaders division is in shambles, seeing that Ohio State is not eligible for the Big Ten title game, and the Badgers need only to sneak past Purdue to notch a second straight divisional title. That’s important to keep in mind.

But to really make a run for the Rose Bowl, the Badgers need to get on the same page. The offensive line couldn’t move anyone up front, resulting in Montee Ball’s worst game since moving into the starting lineup. Danny O’Brien still looks lost in this offense – that’s one big thing that might change as the year goes on.

At least the defense stiffened, holding the Beavers to 10 points despite a really nice game by Sean Mannion, who continues to develop into one of the Pac-12’s most underrated quarterbacks. The Badgers made things difficult on the Beavers, which was a nice development; nevertheless, this is a team that has won games in the trenches. That has changed – through two games, at least.

This isn’t a terrible loss for Wisconsin, even if it’s obviously a painful loss. The Badgers were never going to play for a national title; this team is built for Pasadena, not a run at Alabama or L.S.U. a week later. A loss to Oregon State might actually lead U.W. to go back to the drawing board, work a little harder, do something a little different – it might be a good thing, in the long run. It just doesn’t feel that way today.

Now, Nebraska: the Huskers are in trouble. Last week, the team’s speed and athleticism were enough to get past Southern Mississippi. Last night, when facing a team with equal – or greater – speed and talent, the Huskers crumbled. Forget vintage Nebraska football, because that’s long, long gone; this wasn’t even vintage Nebraska football under Bo Pelini.

This was the worst defensive performance of the Pelini era – worse than any of his early losses, to Missouri or Oklahoma. The Huskers are dreadfully slow along the front seven, and up front in particular. The team’s poor tackling was embarrassing, to be honest. The size up front might be an asset against a team like Iowa, but U.C.L.A. and Johnathan Franklin (162 yards) ran circles around the Huskers’ defense.

And teams like Ohio State and Michigan will do the same. What is Pelini going to do? Rely on his offense? That’s a fine idea when Rex Burkhead returns, especially if Taylor Martinez continues his solid season throwing the football. But with Burkhead sidelined, the Huskers are in very serious trouble. And since it needs to be said: What does Pelini do for Nebraska if the defense is terrible?

With Ohio State under a postseason ban and Michigan out of the title picture, the Big Ten’s national hopes entering the day hinged on Michigan State, the Badgers and the Huskers. Well, there’s always Michigan State – the Spartans, who blanked Central Michigan, are the Big Ten’s best team.

Any good news coming out of the Big Ten? Northwestern’s defense showed up against Vanderbilt, limiting the Commodores to 13 points after giving up 41 points in last weekend’s win over Syracuse. (As an aside, I think it’s safe to say that Northwestern is the Big Ten’s N.U., and not Nebraska.)

U.C.F. put a brief scare into Ohio State, tying the Buckeyes at 10-10 and coming close to drawing within a touchdown in the second half. O.S.U. eventually prevailed, 31-16, though I’m worried about Braxton Miller’s workload.

But that’s it. It was a horrible weekend for the Big Ten. Did I mention that Iowa lost to Iowa State, 9-6, perhaps leading the Hawkeyes’ fan base to wonder if – bear with me – they’d be better off with Ken O’Keefe as their offensive coordinator. Well, if that’s not a sign that it’s been a bad day…

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  1. Bill Condon says:

    And at the half, Illinois clearly does not belong on the same field as Arizona State. The Big “Ten”-Pac 12 matchups don’t bode well for whichever BT team earns that Rose Bowl berth.

  2. Greg says:

    Hey IU creamed UMASS, thats something considering you weren’t sure they could win that game. Its not much for the BIG but its something.

  3. wizardhawk says:

    UW lost a game no one thought they could play, Utah showed they aren’t ready to move up this season, and colorado probably can’t beat a high school team… After that the rest of the Pac was insanely good. Zona and ASU rolled up big and UCLA and Oregon State shocked the media at the very least.

    Now before the SEC once again tells everyone how good they are in OOC the Pac can remind them that they play games in OOC against good teams, not cream puffs or lower teams from AQ’s.

    The new coaches in the Pac are turning heads just days into their first seasons.

    The only down side to the new look Pac is they are setting up to challenge Oregon and USC with speed, but none of them are building up on traditional power/size and that isn’t going to help vs SEC in bowl games.

  4. BobJ says:

    Let’s not forget Penn State, losing to Virginia. We didn’t expect the Nits to be good, but this bad . . .?

  5. M Meyer says:

    I wish it were as simple as thinking that Ken O Keefe would have done a better job. Simply put: I don’t think any coordinator would have helped Vandenberg and his receivers get on the same page. Having Marvin McNutt and a strong running game last year may really have concealed some serious flaws in Vandenberg’s ability to play quarterback.

  6. Andrew says:

    When they announced the final score of the OSU-Wisky game at Autzen, the crowd cheered.

  7. UberD says:

    Pelini needs to go back to coaching defenses.

  8. Jim Narby says:

    not surprising.

    -jim narby

  9. Mark says:

    Northwestern is the only Big 10 team to beat an opponent from a BCS conference. In fact, the Wildcats have two such victories (Syracuse and Vandy). The rest of the Big 10 is 0-7 vs BCS conference opposition.

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