The Big Ten conference has faced its fair share of criticism over the past few years. All Saturday proved however, was that those criticisms are warranted.
The conference lost five games on Saturday, including all three marquee match-ups that were viewed by tens of thousands across the country.
One of the games pitting a Big Ten team against a big time opponent was Michigan facing Notre Dame for the last (scheduled) time. The Wolverines were shut out 31-0 by the No. 16 team in the country, the first time in 42 games against Notre Dame.
Michigan also lost its streak of consecutive games without being shutout, a streak that started in 1984. No. 8 Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in Columbus, the first time the Buckeyes suffered a home-opening defeat since 1978.
The loss also ended a streak of 64 straight victories against unranked, non-conference foes. If that wasn’t enough, No. 7 Michigan State were thwarted by a high-powered Oregon offense, losing 46-27.
Sure, it was no surprise for two of those games, as both Michigan and Michigan State were underdogs, but it’s how they lost the games that were so alarming. Michigan’s offense struggled all game, committing four turnovers and scoring zero points.
Michigan State hadn’t allowed 40+ points in a game since the inaugural Big Ten championship game in 2011 against Wisconsin. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s unit uncharacteristically missed tackles and blew coverages against Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota and his plethora of offensive weapons.
Ohio State lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller before the season and his replacement, J.T. Barrett, showed his inexperience.
The Big Ten’s struggles go far beyond big-time matchups in the regular season. The conference was 13-15 in BCS games and their two best chances to be included in the first four-team playoff, Ohio State and Michigan State, face uphill climbs. Their recruiting tactics have been criticized for a lack of speed and not keeping up with the current style of play.
As a result, the SEC, Big 12, and Pac-12 have thrived in recent years.
It wasn’t only the perceived more talented teams that struggled. No. 19 Nebraska needed a last-minute touchdown to defeat 1-AA McNeese State. Purdue was destroyed at home by Central Michigan by 21 points. Iowa avoided an embarrassing loss to Ball State with late-game heroics by wide receiver Jake Duzey.
The Hawkeyes paid Ball State $900,000 to travel to Iowa City for an assumed beatdown. Northwestern lost at home to Northern Illinois and Illinois and Maryland escaped with single-digit victories.
What’s next for the Big Ten football conference? The additions of both Rutgers and Maryland were frowned upon in football circles, supposedly weakening the conference.
However, both teams won their scheduled games Saturday, despite facing unimpressive teams. The schedule gets easier as a whole, but come conference time, the league’s members won’t have any chances to impress doubters across the nation.
The Big Ten will continue to be a laughing stock around college football and deservedly so.