Big Ten Catechism: Four Pressing Questions After Four Weeks
It is hard to believe that the college football season is in its fifth week.
It seems like just yesterday we were prognosticating about the out come of the season before it had even began.
Four weeks of games have passed us by and there have been plenty of surprises, a few disappointments and one rather humorous gum throwing incident.
Now, as we re-evaluate our preseason notions and take stock in actual results, there are a few questions that need to be asked.
These are my answers...
1. Who is the fraud: Michigan or Indiana?
The short answer is neither.
Michigan fans may find this hard to swallow, but the Hoosiers and the Wolverines are in fairly similar boats. (Other than one is college football's most winningest program that has legions of fans who live and die for their team and the other...well the other has basketball.)
Here me out. Both teams finished the 2008 season at 3-9, both were dismally below .500 in conference play in 2008, both have new coaches who are trying to build their programs, both have new or young players on offense, and both have stars on the defensive (Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton for IU and Brandon Graham for UM).
The truth is that Michigan and Indiana are pretty evenly matched. The evidence is the 33-36 score from the Big House on Saturday. Both teams were in the game the entire time, both teams fought to the end, both teams had monster plays, and both teams performed to their abilities.
The easy answer for some would be that mighty Michigan played down to Indiana. That isn't true. The answer for others would be that lowly Indiana played out of its mind. Not true either.
Michigan and Indiana are teams that have improved the quality of its athletes, its record, and its coaching from last season. And both teams will have good, but not spectacular Big Ten seasons.
2. Has Mark Dantonio lost his mind?
When Mark Dantonio announced at the end of spring practice that the heated quarterback competition that had developed between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol would carry over into the summer and fall, it was commonly presumed that would be a good thing for the Spartans.
After all both quarterbacks showed flashes of real potential in the spring and both seemed adequately equipped to lead the Michigan State football team into the 2009 season.
When the rotation continued into the few games, all was fine. Both quarterbacks performed well and the coaching staff seemed to have a handle on a rotation that would best suit the team.
Now, four games into the season and with the conference season underway, Dantonio refuses to name a full time starter, instead going with a quarterback rotation that boggles the mind and makes even the most timid fan howl with frustration.
The quarterback spot has clearly been won by Cousins. I know it, he knows it, Nichol knows it, and anyone that follows Spartan football knows it.
Yet, Dantonio can't see it and it is staring him right in the face. This quarterback rotation is killing any offensive rhythm the team can muster (and when it works, it works well) and it gives the Spartans no advantage over opposing defenses.
So why persist? The old adage "if you have two quarterbacks, you have none" doesn't apply to this team. The Spartans clearly have a quarterback and his name is Kirk Cousins.
3. Should Big Ten teams be worried about Wisconsin?
Beware Big Ten fans because the Wisconsin Badgers are no pushover.
Bret Bielema caught some heat in the offseason after the Badgers, who at one time last season were a top 10 team, finished a 7-5 and needed a comeback win in overtime to beat FCS Cal-Poly just to get bowl eligible.
This season, Wisconsin has quietly become a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten title race posting a 4-0 record over the first weeks of the season. Each week building confidence and momentum to not suffer the same fate they did in 2008.
Leading the way is quarterback Scott Tolzien. The junior is smart, accurate and rarely makes mistakes. His field vision is possibly the best in the Big Ten and he always seems to know exactly where to throw the ball.
Backing him up is running back John Clay, a tough back who can power his way through the line in short yardage situations or bust a 72 yarder and run untouched to the endzone. He has done both this season.
The Badgers also have a big play receiver in Nick Toon, a big time tight end in Garrett Graham, a more than decent offensive line, and an opportunistic defense that can force turnovers.
Wisconsin may not always win pretty, but so far this season they have found a way to get it done no matter the adversity facing them.
Whether the Badgers can run the table remains to be seen. But Big Ten fans, including those residing in Columbus, Iowa City, State College, and Ann Arbor, should not count the Badgers as an automatic win or they could break your heart.
4. Can Iowa go undefeated and get to the National Championship game?
You better believe it.
With a smothering defense, a grinding offense, and a playmaking special teams unit, the Hawkeyes are starting to look more and more like the real deal. And after a thorough beatdown of previously top five ranked Penn State on Saturday, the Hawkeyes are starting to make believers of those in the Big Ten.
Nationally, the Hawkeyes are still fighting for respect. But don't fret Iowa faithful, if the men in gold and black can navigate through the Big Ten unbeaten, the Hawkeyes will have quality wins over Penn State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin on the road and Michigan at home, as well as impressive non-conference victories over the Big XII (Iowa State) and the Pac-10 (Arizona).
A resume like that, coupled with Iowa's bowl successes over the years will be enough to vault the Hawkeyes in to the National Championship game. The only way it doesn't is if Florida and Texas both run the table.
Patience is a virtue and like the Hawkeyes themselves, the Iowa Nation must stay the course.
This article is featured on First and Big Ten, a Bleacher Report Blog dedicated to everything Big Ten Football.
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