It was another busy weekend in Big Ten country, and in honor of "Cup-Half-Empty Day" (a holiday I just invented), here are five disappointments that jumped out at me from Saturday's action.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: FIVE THINGS I LEARNED
1. Michigan is in utter-collapse mode. The Wolverines dropped their sixth straight conference game, losing by three touchdowns at Wisconsin Saturday. After opening the season 4-0, Rich Rodriguez's 5-6 ballclub will have to upset Ohio State in the teams' annual rivalry game to have any hope of going bowling.
The Badgers embarrassed the porous Michigan defense, courtesy of four Scott Tolzien passing touchdowns and 151 rushing yards from John Clay. If there's anything I've learned from my many years of watching football, it's this: teams that treat defense as an optional endeavor will always struggle. And with the Wolverines allowing 39 points per game in their last four losses, things seem to be going from bad to worse for the Maize and Blue.
2. Purdue needs a new special teams coordinator. With the Boilermakers' loss to Michigan State, Purdue finds itself officially outside of postseason play looking in for the second straight year. The Boilers are left to dream of what might have been after an up-and-down season filled with miscues, especially when it comes to the special teams unit.
For instance, it's hard to imagine Purdue losing to Northern Illinois in September if Aaron Valentin doesn't drop two punts, leading to Huskies scores. That's the most notable of countless errors, gaffes, and missed assignments that have plagued Danny Hope's team in 2009. The latest one saw Michigan State's Keshawn Martin run a kickoff back 86 yards in the final minutes at Ross-Ade Stadium to set up the Spartans' eventual game-winning field goal attempt.
I don't know if Purdue needs to replace the coordinator they have, or just hire a few more (look, it's the pooch punt coordinator, the how-not-to-run-into-the-kicker coordinator, and the field-the-ball-cleanly coordinator!), but something's got to give in West Lafayette. When your student section applauds a successful fair catch on a punt, it's obvious that "special" teams is a serious misnomer.
3. Should Minnesota decline its bowl invitation? The Gophers looked absolutely horrid in an ugly 16-13 win against FCS opponent South Dakota State, leading to the obvious question, "If a team becomes bowl-eligible by nearly dropping a home game against Jackrabbits, should it even accept the bowl invitation (and risk further embarrassment to their university and conference in a postseason matchup against an actual FBS team)?"
This, of course, leads to the obvious follow-up question: "What in the world is a jackrabbit, and is it as intimidating as the aardvark and/or boll weevil?"
From there, we move to the logical next question, "If Adam Weber were a Jackrabbit, would he be able to complete half of his passes or throw for 100 yards in the same game?", since he didn't do either as a Gopher this weekend.
And last, but not least, we are forced to ponder, "When two teams combine for 13 punts, what is more unlucky: the number of punts or the fans forced to watch the Gophers-Jackrabbits snorefest?"
Oh yeah, congratulations to Gophers everywhere on qualifying for a bowl game. That goes to both of you who are still reading this column, since I'm sure I offended everyone else several paragraphs ago...
4. Is the cast of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader voting for the Top 25? This one qualifies for our weekly "Maybe Coaching is Easier Than I Thought" section. Let's see if we can sort the math out, because it must be rocket science: there are three Big Ten teams with two conference losses, all looking up at the Buckeyes and hoping to snag a piece of the league crown.
Iowa and Penn State are 9-2, while Wisconsin is 8-2. The Hawkeyes boast a road win at Beaver Stadium, a road win at Camp Randall, and somehow, the brilliant coaches of America decided to rank them behind conference foes they've beaten on the road (despite identical records).
Aren't we thankful these highly logical rankings go toward determining the national champion of college football? Sounds like a fool-proof system to me.
With fuzzy math like that, maybe the Golden Gophers could still sneak back into the national title picture after a solid 3-point win over the Bugs Bunnies...er...Jackrabbits.
5. Did Penn State hire Purdue's special-teams coordinator? The Nittany Lions miraculously survived four first-half turnovers, including a pair of dropped punts, in a 31-20 victory on Senior Day. Penn State was fortunate to have an opponent in Indiana that has patented blowing big first-half leads, and the Hoosiers continued that disappointing trend after getting out to a 10-0 advantage in the first quarter.
If Penn State has any BCS hopes, they need to get back to basics and learn to secure the football on punt and kickoff returns. Meanwhile on the Indiana side of things, Bill Lynch's gum continues to fly all over Midwestern football stadiums, and an endorsement from Trident, Bubblicious, or Wrigley should be in his near future.
MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
"November just isn't a good year for them." -- Ron Johnson
"Sometimes you get them, sometimes you get got. That time, they got got." -- Matt Millen
"What's going on with that chest? You've got the Austin Powers look there." -- Chris Spielman
"Shank you very much." -- Matt Millen
"Did you get a bowl of chili with that hat?" -- Wayne Larrivee
"Iowa has never won a game at Ohio State since Fry's been the head coach." -- Lou Holtz (I think the new coach's name is Ferentz, Lou. Welcome to the 21st century...)
"Terrelle Pryor had his most complete game against Ohio State last week." -- Matt Millen
"You've got to kick the field goal, because then it's a three-score game." -- Glen Mason (Penn State led by 11 at the time. More fuzzy math...)
"Adam Weber picked off by Derek Domino, falling victim to the dreaded Domino Effect." -- Dave Revsine
"Cinderella just turned into a pumpkin." -- Matt Millen
MAYBE OFFICIATING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
Really, Mr. Referee? Really?
You're going to flag Boilermaker running back Ralph Bolden for...what?
No, not taunting an opponent...
Nope, he didn't punch anyone...
No facemask penalty...
Instead, this fifteen-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is whistled for...
...hugging Purdue Pete after a touchdown.
I mean, REALLY? Are you serious?
Score a touchdown, race into the corner of the end zone...get congratulated by the mascot...run back to embrace your teammates...and discover your team's been penalized fifteen yards. What is this world coming into? Now we have penalties for excessive hugging?
I could go on for a while about this one...
...but I'm afraid I'll get flagged for excessive typing.
Maybe officiating is easier than I thought.
(By the way, make sure you read Danny Hope's take on the incident, courtesy of the Lafayette Journal and Courier ...his quote about the "harmless" encounter between tailback and mascot is hilarious.)
THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
What a grab by Indiana's Damarlo Belcher, tiptoeing in the back of the end zone for the Hoosiers' first touchdown.
Speaking of amazing touchdown catches, how about Nick Toon reaching back over Michigan's Donovan Warren to pull in a score for Wisconsin?...
Loved the stop-and-go move Keith Smith put on a Michigan State safety to get the Boilermakers on the board.
Back to the Hoosiers. I still don't know how Terrance Turner pulled the ball in over the middle while wrestling with PSU defenders. Impressive.
Oh, and we can't forget DJK's kickoff return touchdown to keep Iowa close in Columbus. I think he made 13 different Buckeye players miss on that run-back.
If you don't think Michigan/Ohio State is a serious rivalry, go back and listen to the Buckeye radio call after Jim Tressel's team clinched at least a piece of its fifth straight Big Ten championship with an overtime victory over Iowa.
No screaming announcer...
No breathless hyperbole for hero kicker Devin Barclay...
Instead, the play-by-play man described the dramatic top ten win this way:
"What a great start to Michigan week."
And that, my friends, is why I love Big Ten football.
Only one more week of Carrying On...make sure you send in funny announcer quotes, amazing highlights, and crazy coach/referee decisions...drop me a tweet and you could make it into the season's final column!