Here is the 2012 Big Ten football season so far in a nutshell:
Iowa, on eight of its first nine possessions Saturday against Michigan State, held the ball for five plays or less and didn’t gain more than 15 yards in any of those sequences. Toss an interception in there for fun, too.
Yet the Hawkeyes won. On the road. Against the team considered the league’s preseason favorite.
So Iowa, which lost at home earlier to 2-4 Central Michigan — No. 131 in this week’s Sagarin rankings — is tied for the Legends Division lead at 2-0.
At least that made coach Kirk Ferentz really excited about his team’s prospects, right?
“We have to do almost everything perfect, and that’s impossible,” he said, sighing heavily during Tuesday’s coaches call. “For us to have a chance to win, we’re really going to have to be doing things well in any game on our schedule.”
So that’s the vibe with seven weeks down and seven more to go until the Dec. 1 Big Ten championship game. By then, that matchup in Indianapolis might be downgraded to a local cable access channel.
The league’s latest embarrassment came in this week’s release of the first Bowl Championship Series standings.
Nary a Big Ten team among those 25 schools because Ohio State (7-0) is ineligible as part of NCAA sanctions. There are seven teams from the Big 12 and seven from the SEC.
Nebraska fans have to admit this is the Big Ten they used to make fun of. Now, the Huskers are part of it, not helping the image by giving up 9,000 yards to UCLA (OK, it was 653) and 63 points to Ohio State.
Things are so bad for the Big Ten that one of the few feel-good stories — the emergence of Iowa running back Mark Weisman — now has a cloud over it.
The walk-on transfer from Air Force is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Penn State because of an ankle injury suffered while scoring the tying touchdown against Michigan State.
Ferentz said, “We’ll assume he’s not going to be there” this week, though MRIs showed less damage than feared.
Weisman came into the fall as the co-No. 2 fullback. Only because of multiple injuries at tailback did the sophomore from Buffalo Grove, Ill., get a shot at carrying the ball.
Now, he is sixth in the Big Ten in rushing (105.2 yards a game) and has scored eight touchdowns. No other Hawkeye has more than one.
Beyond the story of Weisman, here are some other things of note about the Big Ten’s first half:
>> Best coaching job: Bill O’Brien, Penn State. Two heart-breaking losses to start the season (Ohio, Virginia) were expected to send the NCAA sanction-riddled Nittany Lions into a tailspin.
But four straight victories with noticeable improvement, along with O’Brien’s likeable personality and spirit, have earned Penn State a lot of fans.
>> Worst coaching job: Danny Hope, Purdue. Hope, in his fourth year, told anyone who would listen since mid-summer that this was his best team and the Boilermakers were ready for a legitimate run at a Leaders Division title.
Instead, in the two biggest games in Hope’s tenure, Purdue bombed. Back-to-back home losses the past two weeks to Michigan (44-13) and Wisconsin (38-14) have virtually torpedoed the Boilermakers’ hopes in the easiest year ever to claim a division title.
Dishonorable mention in this category goes to Illinois’ Tim Beckman, whose goofy rah-rah approach has resulted in a 0-3 start in Big Ten play, being outscored on average 37-7 and players tuning him out.
>> Best game: Still waiting for one.
>> Worst game: Too many to list.
>> Best player: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. He is the perfect fit for Urban Meyer’s spread offense — even better than Tim Tebow — and he’s only a sophomore.
>> Boldest move: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson after the second game (a loss) and changed quarterbacks in the middle of game three (which should have been a loss). The Badgers now are 5-2 and in charge of the Leaders Division. Credit Bielema for admitting a mistake, seeing a need that had to be addressed and correctly assessing that the weakness of the league would allow for such an in-season change to succeed.
Meyer gets defensive
Meyer is known as one of the college game’s top offensive innovators. But after seeing his team give up 38 points to Nebraska and 49 to Indiana the past two weeks, Meyer is spending time in the defensive meeting rooms.
“Ultimately, it’s my job to prepare a team, and we’re having some struggles on defense,” Meyer said Tuesday. “In no way am I going to go in there and change what we do.
“What I am going to do as far as that 4 to 6 seconds of effort (we demand) and some other fundamentals I do understand is support our staff and players.”
Quote of the week
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez on his response to the 63-38 loss to Ohio State:
“It didn’t seem like we lost to them.”
Stat of the week
For the third time in four weeks, Northwestern will face an opponent (Nebraska) that is coming off an open date. It hasn’t bothered the Wildcats yet, whose week off isn’t until Nov. 3. They defeated Indiana and Minnesota despite less preparation time than their foe.
Bits and pieces
Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray (re-sprained same ankle) was still in a walking boot Tuesday and remains questionable for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin. ... Offensive lineman Ryan Klachko, who transferred this summer from Nebraska to Illinois, has retired from football because of “numerous concussions,” Beckman said. Klachko will go on medical scholarship and stay in the program as a student coach. ... Road teams are 8-7 so far in Big Ten play. ... Ohio State, because of injuries, has moved fullback Zach Boren into a starting linebacker role. At one point last week against Indiana, the Buckeyes had five injured linebackers on the sideline. ... Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner is questionable for this week with an undisclosed injury. ... Iowa kicker Mike Meyer has hit 14 of 15 field goals this season and has a run of 68 straight made PATs. ... Minnesota has canceled a two-game series (2013, 2014) with North Carolina. The Gophers have added Kent State for 2015 and South Dakota State for 2019.
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