The Big Ten really needs to make a statement this year.
Everyone is questioning the honor of this once-proud conference. Last year's bowl record of 1-6 certainly poured gasoline on an already burning fire. And while the overall record for opening weekend was very good on paper (10-1), one finds lots of concerns when one looks just below the surface.
Most of the conference dined on the usual diet of cupcakes that populate the schedules of teams nationwide during opening weekend. However, against Missouri, Illinois WAS the cupcake. They lost to Missouri by 4 touchdowns.
This is the Missouri team that lost it's starting quarterback (Chase Daniels), it's best playmaker (Maclin), and their offensive coordinator. This team is picked to finish no higher than third in the Big 12's less competitive North division. Yet, they made Illinois look silly today.
If there is a way to lose a game while still posting a win, Iowa surely qualifies. After trailing Northern Illinois for most of the game, they have to block not one but two field goals to preserve the win...at home.
Are we sure this is the No. 22 team in the land? I'm having my doubts.
Ohio State survived Navy. No, that's no misprint. The team that Notre Dame beat 43 times in a row just about tied the game if not for some boneheaded play calling on the two point conversion. Ohio State would have most likely won had it gone to overtime or could have prevented overtime if they marched down and kick a field goal to end it in regulation. That's not the point. The point is that to have any chance to beat USC next week (something the conference badly needs from a PR standpoint), they needed to be able to beat Navy convincingly.
Minnesota needed overtime to hold off Syracuse. Never mind that Syracuse has a new coaching staff, is playing a quarterback that hasn't played football in four years, and lost 11 games last year. This win certainly didn't inspire much confidence in the prowess of a Big Ten team away from home.
Congrats to the Michigan team that could have been very distracted by recent bad headlines but took care of business early on. There was a letdown in the second half after the flurry of first-half scoring. But if you get up big on a team, you can afford a small letdown...but only if you get up big.
The rest of the conference held serve in a way that was more expected...in other words, not nail-biters.
When the year is over, when people look back at the records of Iowa, Ohio State, and Minnesota, people will forget how close these games were. They will just see a win on these teams' resumes.
But the fans of the teams of the Big Ten (as well as the brass in the conference office) are tired of hearing how the Big Ten has taken a back seat to other conferences. And this type of collective performance is a warning sign of what the bowl season might hold. When the out-of-conference teams they are up against are of a higher caliber, some of these close wins will instead be losses.
That would be bad news from a conference PR standpoint...especially in light of the current school of thought vis-a-vis the conference's place in the hierarchy of the college football landscape.