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Like It Or Not, Big Ten Off to Solid Start

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One of the strange aspects of the shift over the past decade from a team to conference centered agenda is the top to bottom emphasis on league performance out of the gate.  It wasn't long ago that fans were content to know that their team had managed to make it out of opening weekend alive, today we find ourselves mysteriously attached to the plight of our brethren. 

To that end my team -- Ohio State -- represented itself well Thursday night, putting together a balanced display of offensive skill and defensive might.  The only way in which the opener didn't completely exceed expectations was in the special teams department, where the Buckeyes allowed a blocked field goal to be returned for a touchdown, and later acquiesced to a 60 some yard kickoff return.  Yet, despite the fact that my school looked every bit the national title contender the media says they are, I still couldn't dedicate any less of my Saturday to watching conference returns.  Illinois/Missouri, Michigan/Connecticut, Purdue/Notre Dame... I'm addicted to Big Ten football, at least that's what my new wife said when she found me camped out in our honeymoon suite streaming the Northwestern/Vanderbilt game over the internet.

Modern college football has become as much about regional identity as team affiliation.  The latest generation of fans cares almost as much about their conference as they do their alma mater.  This, of course, is the SEC's fault -- the league made interdependence a business back in 2006 because it's better to have a 12/121 chance at immortality  than a 1/121 shot in the dark.  Still, I can't help but feel as if the business of conference supremacy is fleeting at best.

Just ask the SEC.  The league has been the runaway toast of college football for four seasons and counting, yet, even the most entrenched partisan knows it's only a matter of time in this sick cycle carousel before sometime else steals their thunder.  After one of their two flagship programs (Florida) came out flat against Miami (OH), a team that won as many games as they lost in 2009, another competitor in the "also receiving votes" category (Ole Miss) got upset by FCS Jacksonville State, Vanderbilt got beaten at home by "just" Northwestern, and LSU needed nine lives to outlast a North Carolina team playing at half strength in the kickoff classic, the SEC looks dangerously deficient.  At least I don't think we'll be hearing any "our 2-loss champion deserves a spot in the title game" talk.  Then again, I did just hear an SEC channel commentator announce that the Commodores clearly had more speed than the Wildcats, despite the fact that the later was ahead and marching across midfield.  Speed must be surreptitious....

Meanwhile, the Big Ten -- our beloved mastodon -- is off to a solid start.  Hopefully this won't come back to bite me in the ass [as I write this Wisconsin leads UNLV 17-7] but we've won the games we were supposed to win and we've lost the games we were supposed to lose.  I was impressed by the quarterback play of Michigan's Denard Robinson -- is their any hole he can't squeeze through? -- and Northwestern's Dan Persa -- is their anyone he can't find in the flat?, and relieved at Michigan State's, Minnesota's and Penn State's persistence.  The only team I can't stand is Illinois -- and don't give me this "they exceeded expectations" crap.  The Fighting Illini stink.  Down by a respectable 4 points in the fourth quarter, they didn't even seem willing to entertain the possibility that they might drive down the field and score.  Instead, they opted for an ill contrived series of pitches and backward passes that reeked of desperation, ultimately ending in a shaky incomplete pass on 4th and 10.  Thanks for the memories Ron...

Ultimately, it was just one day in a what promises to be a season full of adventure.  Still, I can't help but feel like the conference is slowly, but surely getting its sea legs.  Next week will be a tremendous test of our virtue...