2011 conference season is underway, which is great, for a couple of reasons. For one, we can now start comparing teams within the conference based on how they play against each other, but most importantly, I only have to write about half as many paragraphs for the DKR, which is good for everyone all the way around.
So what did we learn? We learned that the talent gap between Wisconsin and Minnesota is so vast that Paul Bunyan's axe will stay in Madison until approximately 2135, Ohio State is running an offense that Woody Hayes would love...but he would also probably punch a linebacker, Michigan might really be back...but...Illinois is the best team in the state of Illinois, and Penn State is going to be hard pressed to score 20 points, and so will their opponent.
Anyways, follow along, after the jump, and let's do a recap.
Penn State 16, Indiana 10. Until Penn State does something to remedy it, I'm going to keep beating the dead horse, reviving it, and then beating it again. Pick a quarterback. Matt McGloin isn't good, but he's better than Robert Bolden is right now. But will Bolden ever get any better if he doesn't play? Yeah, Bolden threw a terrible pick on the Indiana 1, and yeah, McGloin threw a 72 yard TD pass, but that was 35% of his entire passing yardage. They just stumbled through a bad day and won, which is the important thing. But they've got to clean up a lot of things. For Indiana, it was a game effort, and they had a chance to win it up until the last play of the game. Penn State did a lot more to beat themselves than Indiana did to beat them, but if Kevin Wilson can get some talent, they're going to win games like this, just not this year.
Michigan 58, Minnesota 0. For a team and school that's had their fair share of embarrassing losses, this one is right up there. No one really expected the Gophers to win this game, but when it's 58-0, there's something so wrong there I don't know that it's fixable. I've been harsh on Michigan, but coming in to yesterday's game, the Gophers had a respectable offense, and UM just dominated them. On offense, Denard Robinson did whatever he wanted, both in the air and on the ground. If Robinson is truly becoming a passing threat to go along with his running ability, this is a BCS-level team, as long as the defense can keep it up. And at some point, we have to quit saying 'yeah, but', don't we?
Illinois 38, Northwestern 35. Let's agree to shut up about two things: that Northwestern is a legitimate Legends Division contender, and that Illinois is over rated. Well, how can Illinois beating Northwestern make both true? I mean, if we agree on both, doesn't that mean that Illinois should have beaten Northwestern at home? Well sure, until you remember Illinois was down 28-10 late in the third quarter. A team that wants to be taken seriously as a contender for the conference championship game puts that game away, and a team that everyone thinks is over rated Zooks it up and calls it a day. Instead, Illinois had an inspired, well-coached comeback, and Northwestern folded. Nathan Scheelhaase had a break through game, and the Illini are one of the best teams in the conference.
Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7. Is Ohio State's offense that bad, or is Michigan State's defense that good? A little bit of both, and a lot of the coaching, at least on OSU's side of the ball. Jon talked about some of that here, and to be sure Ohio State's offensive line got their ass handed to them all day. But Jim Tressel masked a lot of issues with the offense, and that was apparent yesterday. Tressel had an ability to see early on in the game what was going to work and what wasn't, mask or neutralize mismatches that favored the opponent, and exploit mismatches that were in OSU's favor. Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman does not have that ability, and he doesn't seem flexible in deviating from the gameplan once the play on the field starts unfolding. Luke Fickell has to trust Bollman because Fickell can't spell offense, so for 2011, the OSU offense is what it is, which is a hot, unproductive mess. That's a shame, because the Buckeye defense looks legitimate. But hat's off to MSU. Winning a Big Ten game in Columbus is no easy feat, and they were 30 seconds from tossing a shutout. Kirk Cousins had a good day, but for 2 interceptions deep in OSU territory, MSU would have won this game in a rout.
Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10. Just a very uninspired performance by Purdue. They were out of it early, and never seemed interested in playing the game. On offense, Purdue couldn't get anything going, on defense they couldn't get off the field, and they had no answer for anything Notre Dame wanted to do. Between Minnesota, Indiana, and Purdue, I think the Boilermakers have the most talent, but that's kind of like saying I've got the best deck chair on the Titanic. Purdue was outplayed and outcoached, and you have to think that Danny Hope's seat is getting hotter and hotter with each passing game.
Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17. Holy. Shit. There have been some dominating football teams in the Big Ten, and for me, the benchmark for offensive production over the last decade or so is the 2006 Ohio State team. Wisconsin reminds me of them in many ways--two headed running back monster, ridiculously talented quarterback, very good receivers, exceptional offensive line. Right now, this Wisconsin team is better than that Ohio State team, because once they get rolling downhill, you can't stop them, and you can't get out of their way. Granted, Taylor Martinez didn't do Nebraska any favors by tossing three bad, terrible picks, especially the one on the first play of the second half, but still Wisconsin went through a very good Nebraska defense like a JV scout team. I don't think Nebraska is that bad, and I look for them to make OSU pay for that embarrassing performance they had in Madison. But Wisconsin? Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Right now, Wisconsin looks unbeatable, Michigan looks for real, Ohio State looks like they're going to struggle to find 6 wins, Nebraska is licking their wounds, and Michigan State is lurking in the background, waiting to prove themselves.