Dear, Wisconsin. Ohhhhh Wisconsin. I had you all pegged as this balance of power running, phenomenally accurate arm strength, un-Big 10 like athleticism (read: good thing) and a down right nasty defense only to see you go out and do…this. Saturday night started out well enough for you. Two 1st quarter offensive touchdowns, dominant defense, a deafening East Landing crowd turned relatively mute in a matter of minutes. And then, in as weird a momentum shift as I’ve ever seen, Heisman trophy candidate Russel Wilson threw the ball away from his own end-zone only to have the refs call it intentional grounding. That meant Sparty’s first 2 points and the ball back, after which they scored on a 34 yard reverse to suddenly be down by only five. After blocking a field goal attempt on your next drive, Michigan State proceeded to go 80 yards, scoring on a 4th and 2 from your 35 to take a 16-14 lead. Huh? How did a team with such phenomenal ball control ability and defense allow that 16 point swing in less than a quarter of play. From there the momentum was all MSU. That they scored on a hail mary at the end of regulation to win the game after blowing a 31-17 (i.e. same 2 touchdown lead you started off with) only cemented how strange this game became…and how indicative it was of your bad luck/brain farts over the past decade. Your inability to stop big plays on defense combined with just enough good Mark Dantonio defense to become a perfect remedy against the steamroller you guys had been riding for over seven weeks. Woof.
Wisconsin has had a number of good teams that took national title hopes into late October, or finished with one or two loss records and just enough regrets. Outside of Ohio State, they’ve quietly been the Big 10’s most consistent program since 2000. All that’s been missing is a truly great quarterback, with next level Heisman-esque potential to bring the Badgers a national title, which of course they got this year. While it looked good for six games, we now know that the football gods just won’t allow the state of Wisconsin to dominate football at both of its highest levels. Oh well. In 2012 it’ll be back to quarterbacks named Nate Tice and Joe Brennan and questions like whether you can, in fact, win the Big 10 just by running the ball. But for now, let’s see if Wisconsin can’t make a run at the Big 10 Title with a bit of help.
The icing on the cake was Michigan State’s unlikely yet all too familiar way of winning football games under Mike Dantonio. Remember the fake field goal game winner at Notre Dame last year or when they scored 23 unanswered points to beat Illinois weeks later? How about the interception return for touchdown that ended Michigan’s undefeated run this year? The hail mary, especially when you consider how the game played out, should have actually been expected. Even if there’s a distinct possibility that the hail mary didn’t actually go for a touchdown (I’m still not sure if he broke the plain) is there any doubt that MSU would’ve pulled it out anyway? Honestly, they just saved everyone a few nutty overtime periods that would’ve essentially produced the same result. So congrats Spartans, you are officially the New York Jets of college football (you know, minus all the slap-your-forehead trash talking, insane coaching stunts and sub-par quarterback play). Bravo.
In other parts of the country, LSU and Alabama set up a regular season game that will decide, among other things, “which undefeated SEC coach has more southern moxie,” “how many times can LSU coach Les Miles outfox himself…and have it somehow pay off,” “the SEC West division, SEC Championship and possibly national championship,” and “can a player actually be arrested on the field in the middle of a play.” Heady stuff. We also found out that the geniuses at Stanford managed to do something no one else has been able to do; make Andrew Luck relatively meaningless in a big Stanford win (or really any Stanford win). Of course, everyone probably thought he went for those 400+ rushing yards all by himself anyway.
Lastly, Oklahoma was stricken with an ailment it has become quite familiar with in recent years; Red Raider’s Revenge. Texas Tech has managed to play spoiler for both Big XII heavyweights in recent years (how the Halloween catch keeps getting brought up in my own posts I will never know), but they’ve particularly had it out for the Sooners. Tech beat Oklahoma in ’99, ’05, ’07 and ’09. In ’07 the Sooners we’re 9-1 and ranked #3. Add in this year’s win and that’s two top 3 rankings ruined by the Raiders in five seasons. Only Texas has beaten Oklahoma that many times in the span, and they certainly haven’t gotten two wins against top 3 ranked Oklahoma teams in that time. Shit, this is making me depressed.
Here are some take aways from this year’s installment: Tommy Tuberville’s now super-underrated head coaching record against top 5 teams (he’s 5-5…), how good Texas Tech QB Seth Doege is (24-4 TD:Int ratio), the rescinding of the “Big Game Bob” moniker that Stoops had somewhat gotten back in September (you don’t get to be Big Game when you can’t win an over-matched opponent game) and Oklahoma’s mediocre passing offense. That last one is huge by the way, because even if Oklahoma gets past the increasingly difficult remainder of the schedule (they still have K-State, A&M and Baylor who have a combined 16-4 record) they still have to go to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, in case you forgot, rank second in passing yards in the country. So…have fun with that Sooners.
On to the week 8 games: I know there was a lot of Big XII talk above but guess what? That conference has two 4-2 teams, two 5-2 teams, one 6-1 team and two 7-0 teams. With five or six games left to go for each and the meat of the new round robin Big XII in-conference format to boot, most of these teams haven’t even played each other yet (and they all have to). That’s all about to change as we near November, and with no conference championship game there could be all kinds of intrigue going into the first weekend of December! Yes please. To kick it off we have two huge mid afternoon games on Saturday; Baylor at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma at Kansas State. To clarify; that’s all 3 of the Big XII’s top 10 teams plus a Heisman Trophy contender for the bears. If they add West Virginia this week then this conference might be nearly back from the dead.
Clemson at Georgia Tech; this was supposed to be the poor man’s LSU-Bama. Now it’s just another Clemson game that ACC commissioner John Swofford has to sweat out while he hopes to keep his conference football relevant. Stanford at USC; remember when Stanford put itself on the national map back in 2009 by crushing USC at the Coliseum by 34 points? Since that game Stanford is 20-3 and has spent most of the time in the top 10. USC is 16-7, and while that’s certainly respectable for most teams it’s also exactly how many losses USC had from 2003 to 2008…total. I think Stanford will make it 3 straight and 4 out of 5 versus the Trojans, but they might actually have to work for this one. Illinois at Penn State; who would have thought two weeks ago that the Nittany Lions would be the ranked team in this match up (and 7-1)? Oh that’s right, every Florida and Illinois fan whose ever been burned by the Zooker…so like millions of people. Georgia at Florida; this has to be mentioned because it used to semi-officially be called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (and I’m trying to do everything I can to keep that going). It also has to be mentioned because, while the Gators have seemingly given up, the Bulldogs have won five straight and are on the verge of giving Boise State a legitimate SEC win on its schedule. Go Ugga! Navy at Notre Dame; Brian Kelly, I dare you to lose to Navy for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years. Seriously, the Irish are not above firing you after two seasons. BYU at TCU; did you know BYU is 6-2? Yeah, me neither.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “The next time someone tries to sprint across midfield, belly dance, chest pump a 300 pound man, and then try to touch ME? I’m kicking them in the shins. Just saying Jim Schwartz…pussy.”