I'm finally back from vacation in Italy, and what do I find? The B1G (sans Wisconsin, and perhaps Nebraska, Michigan and Illinois) in disarray. Goddamnit, Northwestern, I know it's patriotic, but how can you lose to Army???? And I'm not even going to address the state of all things athletic in the states of Indiana and Minnesota.
It's time to fix my disappointment in the conference's non-conference performance with a Potluck, Italian-style.
Jump below as the OTE writers and I debate whether the B1G is prosciutto or melon, what it'll take to steal the bottle of Brunello di Montalcino from Wisconsin, determine the best non-Communist game of this week, decide what B1G unit is most like the food in Florence, and swap tailgate recipes for butterburgers that resemble Michigan co-eds, hobo hotdogs, artery-clogging 7-layer dip, and a Hilary Lee-special of deep fried meat.
1. Antipasti: With the exception of Purdue (That Team in South Bend) and Northwestern (Rice), the non-conference "appetizer" portion of the schedule is now done...and with a few exceptions, it wasn't pretty. The B1G went 34-12, with some ugly losses (North Texas? North Dakota State? Rice? New Mexico State? Army?). And yet 4 undefeated squads and 6 squads with just 1 loss show that there's still plenty of time to make this a tremendous year for the B1G. So what's your verdict? Is this a prosciutto-thin year for the B1G, where we'll get shellacked come bowl time? Or will we be tasting sweet melon in early January as we dominate the bowl season and maybe even land a team (looking at you, Wisconsin) in the BCS Championship?
Ted Glover: Well, let's look at those bad losses. North Texas, North Dakota State, New Mexico State, and Rice were from the three worst teams in the conference. I don't see any of those teams going to a bowl game, so as far as the rest of the conference is concerned, meh. Army isn't a bad team, and I think if Dan Persa had played they win. At the top, I think Wisconsin and Nebraska can be dominant teams, and although everyone in between those two and the bottom three are flawed, they're still good. Adding Nebraska will put B1G teams against more evenly mtached opponents as opposed to having to play our 4th place team against whoever's second or third place team. I think we'll be all right.
KennardHusker: I can't say I've ever been to an Italian potluck... Do we still get deviled eggs? Because if there are no deviled eggs, then I'm leaving. Anyhow, like Ted said, the bad losses have generally been by bad teams, and while we can sit here and talk about what some fans thought would happen going into the season, nobody is all that surprised. Remember what the OTE Staff predicted for Minnesota, Purdue, and Indiana? It wasn't exactly glowing... Even so, the bottom three teams of the conference have been a black mark so far and we're going to pretend they don't count because they're all rebuilding (shhhh... it's an old Big XII trick. The Big XII North was always bad, but it was because they were always rebuilding. I think this excuse can catch on here.) So what are realistic expectations going forward? I think a strong bowl showing and a finish with a few teams in the Top 15 and some great showdowns every week that will 'move the needle' nationally. No one can complain about that.
Ted Glover: "Remember what the OTE Staff predicted for Minnesota, Purdue, and Indiana? It wasn't exactly glowing." I called Minnesota at 7-5 and winning two rivalry games. In an unrelated note, "Ted's Clairvoyant Services" currently has a going out of business sale going on. Three worthless predictions for the price of one, sale ends Friday. And Michigan will embarrass Minnesota on Saturday. And the Vikings will probably go 0-4 on Sunday. My football life sucks.
Graham Filler: I'm a hater. We're thinner than Kate Moss in 1995. It all boils down to defensive toughness - The B1G just doesn't have it, and the teams that do (PSU, OSU) have no offense. Sad times at Ridgemont High.
Hilary Lee: Can I go with pancetta? Slightly thicker sliced than prosciutto, yet basically along the same lines. I think we'll see a competitive year at the top - Wisconsin, Nebraska, and some combination of OSU/MSU/Iowa/Michigan/Illinois/Northwestern (a girl can dream, right?) will be in it for much of the season. The rest will probably be painful to watch. Whether or not we have a good bowl season will depend more on whether or not we play "up" again this year. Though that was historically our problem, perhaps the institution of the championship will help us avoid that fate this year. I think if the Big Ten gets to go up against relatively evenly matched teams in its bowl games, we'll have a good January. If not... well, you should probably get your emergency bacon ready.
2. Vino: As for the season so far, let's award Wisconsin with a nice bottle of Brunello di Montalcino for quite simply outclassing the rest of the conference -- no one has come close to stopping the Badgers, and it seems quite probable that they still haven't played their best football. To my eyes, they're a legitimate BCS Championship contender. Is there any way to trip up the Badgers? How? And who on their schedule (including a hypothetical B1G Championship game) is best equipped to play that style of game?
Ricardo Efendi (abusing his liver with vino): You're certainly right: Wisconsin has yet to play its best football. On the defensive side of the ball I'm guessing Chris Ash has declined showing even half his blitz packages, and Chris Borland (the 2009 B1G Freshman of the Year) will only get better as he reacquaints himself with game speed after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury; a scary thought as he's already shown a ton of playmaking ability through four games. The offense has overcome nine and even ten in the box fronts, something they'll see less of in conference play as teams try to develop schemes to stymie Russell Wilson.
But here are a pessimist's warning signs. Penalties have plagued the offense, particularly in the Northern Illinois and Oregon State games. The Badgers have the offensive firepower to overcome that against lower level opponents; what about on the road at East Lansing of Columbus? Secondly, the run blocking has left something to be desired. Against Oregon State, center Peter Konz struggled against massive nose tackle Castro Masaniai. The unit as a whole has looked sluggish in every opening quarter save the opener. Part of the problem is facing the aforementioned nine-man fronts that sell out against the run. But until they return to what they did against Ohio State and Iowa last year, I'm going to express concern. James White has also continued to be a little too quick bouncing runs to the outside. The passing game has been exceptional, but I've had the feeling Paul Chryst has been too quick at times to resort to it. Will he, in another big game, eschew patience with the running game while hoping for the instant gratification that is a twenty yard completion?
On defense the injuries are already piling up. Starting linebacker Kevin Claxton has missed time with a broken wrist, starting safety Shelton Johnson (responsible for two of the three turnovers forced by the defense this far) left Saturday's game with an injury, and starting corner Devin Smith is out for the year. Claxton is back (and backup Ethan Armstrong more than held his own), Dez Southward (next up if Johnson can't go) nearly won the starting job in camp, and Marcus Cromartie has been consistently solid in place of Smith. But at what point does the depth start to dry up?
Is anyone equipped to beat the Badgers? As long as the play action game is working, nobody. The best bets are going to be Michigan State and Ohio State, both of which feature run-stuffing defensive tackles (Anthony Rashad White and Johnathan Hankins, respectively) that can slow down the front wall's assault. And Wisconsin has to go on the road in back-to-back weekends to play against those teams, each of which likely has some measure of revenge on their minds from last year (whipping in Madison and Rose Bowl "snub"). If they can stop Wisconsin early and get a lead at home, and if the Badgers kill themselves with knucklehead penalties, both the Spartans and Buckeyes will have a very good chance of knocking Bucky off. Notice how I didn't mention Nebraska? That's because I agree with Vegas (Wisconsin, -10.5).
Outside of those two I'm concerned about the other two road games, at Minnesota and at Illinois. You're laughing about the Minnesota game? Weird things happen in that series, and you know the Gophers will be up for it (and the Badgers maybe not so focused at the outset, ala 1999 and 2008). And what do we make of the fighting Zookers? Just like the East Lansing and Columbus scenarios, if the Illini can get a lead and force Wisconsin into mistakes early, watch out.
Hilary Lee: Take Russell Wilson out of the game. And then stop the run. In most years, if you did only the second, you had a decent shot at controlling the Wisconsin offense. Even when we had accurate QBs like Scott Tolzien, we didn't really have enough in the air game to be able to play a team who was containing the Badgers on the ground. This year, I think we just might, especially with the way that Nick Toon seems to really be clicking with Wilson.
But if the run gets stalled enough, and if Wilson is taken out? (Either literally with an injury or figuratively by strong pressure), then Wisky will have a problem. Of course, the mere fact that it's extremely hard for any team to do that to Wisconsin is as good an illustration as any of how good the Badgers are this year...
Chadnudj: Hilary, take Russell Wilson out of the game and stop the run? How on earth do you do that?
I don't think Wisconsin will be beat (at least in the B1G) this season....but if someone were to beat them, they'd do so by spreading the ball around on offense and controlling the ball on long drives (which must come away with points), coming up with some special teams big plays, and selling out to stop the run, while hoping cornerbacks in isolation can stop Wilson from connecting on big plays to Toon. Impossible, if you ask me....but that's the blueprint.
3. Primi Piatti: Mmmmmm, pasta. The opening weekend of B1G play is obviously highlighted by the Russian Roulette Game in Madison (2 reds enter, only one leaves alive). Let's take that one off the menu -- what's the NEXT greatest opening B1G weekend matchup on the slate? (MSU-OSU, Illinois-Northwestern, Minnesota-Michigan, Penn State-Indiana, and That Team in South Bend-Purdue, which isn't a conference game, but let's face it....it will be one day, am I right?) And how do you see the #2 Game of B1G Week 1 breaking down -- give us predictions and keys for the game, just like you're Craig James (without any alleged murders of prostitutes that may or may not have happened)?
Ted Glover: OSU-MSU. Pretty stunning coming from an OSU guy, huh? But really, this is a good undercard. Not a lot of people believe in MSU outside of East Lansing, and there's a bit of an identity crisis in Columbus right now, on both sides of the ball. I don't know that this is a 'must win' game for either team, but it's a really important one. MSU has a great opportunity here. They have solid, stable senior leaders, a good coach that has gotten his teams ready for big games (for the most part), they get OSU at less than full strength, and will put a strong running game against what might be the most mediocre Buckeye defense in a decade. For OSU, Braxton Miller seemed to get more confident as the Colorado game progressed, and he showed some good things. He's still safety wired to the run position and I think he needs to believe in his passing game a little more, but MSU's defense doesn't seem as stout as it was in the previous couple of years. Look for Miller to make some more plays with his arm this week along with his legs. Luke Fickell looked like he was swimming in the deep end without a life jacket against Miami, but I'm going to give him one more chance--he's at home in a more comfortable environment, so we'll see what happens.
BabaOReally: I am looking forward to seeing Illinois and Northwestern battle it out for the title of Chicago's B1G team. The big key to this game is obviously the health of Persa. It will be interesting to see how close he is to 100%. Will he be PERSASTRONG or PERSARUSTY? I think Illinois will win this one and the Northwestern optimists and their 10-2 predictions will start to realize that maybe they are not going to make that big of a leap this year.
Hilary Lee: I'm saying the Northwestern-Illinois game, though not just because I'm a Wildcat fan. This game will answer questions about these teams that should tell us what trajectory the rest of their seasons are likely to go in:
- Is Dan Persa back? And if he is, does that make a difference for Northwestern?
- Can Illinois really play an entire game against a non-creampuff? Can they do it more than once?
I think the game is close. If the Northwestern defense plays like it has against most teams so far this season, and if Dan Persa is last year's version or better, then the Wildcats take it. If not...
Chadnudj: Ditto everything Hilary said -- this week's best non-Communist matchup is Illinois and Northwestern. Way too many storylines here -- Illinois looking to start 5-0 for the first time since Truman was in office, the return of 2010 All B1G QB Dan Persa, Illinois fans who are actually engaged and interested in a non-basketball Illini team, a war-of-words between the teams over who is Chicago's Big Ten team that has added actual heat to the rivalry, NU seeking revenge for the Wrigley loss, Illinois trying to beat Northwestern in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-2002....and did I mention Dan Persa is back? Top it off with the Monopoly piece known as the Land of Lincoln Trophy, and you have a phenomenal undercard to Wisconsin-Nebraska. I'm already in full-on hate mode of everything orange.
JDMill: I don't know anything about Craig James and prostitutues, but I do happen to know that Neil Diamond once killed a drifter to get an erection. True story. Game of the week after Wisky/Nebby... gotta be the battle for The Little Brown Jug doesn't it? The red-hot Gophers invade The Big House for another tilt of epic proportions! Gophers!!! Wolverines!!! The Little Brown Jug!!! It's going to be... oh, crap, I can't do it. It's going to be a slaughter, but I'm a real narcissist (which happens to be a pre-requisite for being a Gopher fan), so I'll be watching.
4. Secondi Piatti: The highlight of my Italian trip? The food in Florence. Whether it was sandwiches and wine on the street at I Due Fratellini (www.iduefratellini.com), the roast boar in tomato sauce with polenta, mozzarella with truffles, and practically unlimited house red wine at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, or the grilled swordfish at Trattoria 4 Leoni (www.4leoni.com), the food of Florence did not disappoint. If you're a food fan heading to Italy, you MUST go to Florence. In that spirit -- what was your highlight from the B1G non-conference season? What (a) one play, (b) one player, and (c) one unit (not a team -- just a unit on a team) have made the biggest impression on you (whether because they've been as good as advertised, or far better than you anticipated)?
KennardHusker: Let's start with the most entertaining three minutes of football so far. While Michigan and Notre Dame forgot to tell their DBs the game was still going, we got to see one of the more spectacular outings by a WR core in a while. Let's not get too amped up about how bad the passes looked (who here thinks Denard closed his eyes on those throws), but rather at the athleticism it took to pull those floaters in. That was just fun football, not necessarily good football, but very very fun.
Graham Filler: Nebraska's speed at so many positions really blew me away. We're not just talking straight line speed either, which they have in spades, but we're talking the dangerous, vicious speed that turns 20 yard kickoff returns into 102 yard TD returns. If you played Nebby in the 1960's, you would grow the grass out on your homefield real nice pregame.
Hilary Lee: This is easily the combination of Nick Toon and Russell Wilson. Game after game, Toon has showed up to play, and it looks like he might actually surpass his 2009 numbers. I keep waiting for him to trip up, but he just gets better, and having a solid receiver like that makes Wilson's arm that much more terrifying.
Chadnudj: The only more impressive combination than Toon and Wilson? James Vandenberg and Marvin McNutt. Of course, the fact that McNutt has been a wide receiver for the Hawkeyes for approximately the past 14 years may have something to do with that, but the numbers speak for themselves: 413 yards receiving, 25 receptions, 16.5 yards per completion, and 4 TDs. And you can basically concede the TD to Iowa when they run the endzone corner fade to McNutt. Vandenberg has looked great at QB, and McNutt's a huge reason why.
5. Dolci: I'm still 2 weeks away from my first home tailgate of the year....but it's going to be epic, as it's a night game at Ryan Field for a sell-out crowd against Michigan on October 8th. I have a crew of co-workers coming to the game, and tons of other purple-clad friends are heading up to Ryan Field to join in the grilling. Which poses a dilemma -- what do we make? I don't think we've done this before, but give us your favorite tailgate recipes below (appetizers, dips, entrees/meats, desserts, adult beverages....whatever), and I'll consider making it for the October 8th feast.
JDMill: I tend to be a bit of a tailgating vagabond. I like to jump between groups of friends and family so that I get to mingle and keep it fresh. This way I get to sample the bold flavors that several people are bringing to the proverbial table. It's a win-win... well, okay, it's a win for me, probably not anybody else. Having said that, sometimes a tailgate will disappoint, so you gots to be prepared. In addition to bringing my own tunes on a walkman (Journey and Bon Jovi tapes of course) with headphones, I like to mix myself a little (okay, a lot of) margarita in my trusty Camelback. These two badboys make me a walking party. But the one thing I can't forget is some grub. So if you're ever in a jumping from lot to lot situation which calls for food backups in case of a rank 7 layer dip, try this. 2 hotdogs, 1 ziplock back, 2 packets ketchup, lighter, plastic fork. Use the fork to pierce one hot dog in the center... use lighter to heat up hot dog, taking care not to melt the fork. Once hot dog is "cooked," use fork to eat hot dog. Repeat with second hotdog. Now, here's the kicker: be sure to buy precooked hotdogs. That way if you forget your lighter, or if it's a little windy, or if you're running low on time... no worries.
KennardHusker: Okay, not sure how many people like dealing with Burgers during tailgating. A lot of my friends much prefer the brats, chicken, steak (this is Nebraska...) route because of the mess. Still, the stuffed burger is where it's at. Mix a dash of garlic salt, a teaspoon of worcestershire, some freshly ground black pepper, and a little bit of dried onion (or dried garlic and onion salt... either way) with some nice fatty ground beef (you may even mix in a little venison) and make portions of what you want for each burger (usually 1/3 lb per). Divide those portions in half and press the patties pretty thin. Next comes the filling. This sounds ridiculous, but it's crazy delicious. Take a tablespoon of cold real butter, cut it up into little pieces and mix it with cheddar and/or Jack and/or any other cheese of choice. It will form a ball of butter/cheese that sounds and looks gross (and awesome). Roll it into a log and cut it into equal portions for each burger. Put one thin patty on the bottom and one on top and seal. This will be the most decadent/delicious burger. Top with more cheese if you like, add jalapenos, and you have the best burger in the world.
I almost forgot the most important part... Make sure to press the middle of the burgers in before they hit the grill. If you indent them on each side, they won't get fat in the middle and will end up nice and even. There's nothing more obnoxious that a hamburger that is more round than flat.
Ted Glover: Round and flat...what do Michigan co-eds have to do with this? :)
Graham Filler: OMG. I am going to just suggest a nice 7 layer dip. Something for everyone in there. But it looks like those damn butterball burgers are going to take the day...
Chadnudj: I was going to share my recipe for baked bacon (bacon breaded in parmesan cheese with tabasco sauce and chili powder, then baked -- good for a morning or evening tailgate), but did someone say "7 layer dip"? Try this one, called Sue's Polish Pizza, which skips the typical bean layer for a more Midwest appropriate " artery-clogging layer of cream cheese/sour cream/taco seasoning." Thanks, Mom:
- Mix 8 oz. of softened cream cheese, 8 oz. of sour cream, and 1 package of McCormick's Taco Seasoning together. Spread across a round plate, leaving a lip up at the edges (the lip holds in the other layers, as you'll see).
- Pour salsa on top of cream cheese/sour cream base, spreading around.
- Put chopped green onions, sliced avocado, and sliced olives liberally on top of salsa, as much as you'd like. Fresh chopped/diced tomatoes are also an option here.
- Cover entire thing completely with shredded lettuce. Seriously, you should see noting but lettuce when you finish this step.
- Cover all of the shredded lettuce with shredded Mexican cheese. Seriously, you should see nothing but cheese when you finish this step.
- Use heavy duty dipping chips -- the Tostitos Gold chips used to be the best -- to ensure you can dip through all of the layers.
Hilary Lee: I'm including a recipe for what I'm making at the Northwestern-Michigan tailgate. (Chad, are you stopping by? You need to stop by.) This is something that is almost unknown outside of the state of South Dakota. It's called Chislic, and it is awesome.
Basically, chislic is cubes of meat that are deep fried. It's often made with venison or other game meat, but it is also delicious with bison, lamb, or just plain old beef for us city slickers. The preparation is stupidly easy, though there are basically two different versions. I'll call one the Sioux Falls version, and the other the Pierre version.
Sioux Falls Chislic:
A decent quantity of meat (how much is dependent on the size of your tailgate, but it's important that it be easily sliced while raw)
Garlic salt (or other seasoned salt)
Deep fry meat.
The version I've had in the Pierre area is basically the same as the Sioux Falls version, with the important caveat that it is battered. Both the naked deep fried meat and the battered version are delicious, so it really comes down to personal preference I think. For this, you need:
A decent quantity of meat
Some form of seasoned batter (the type that is used for chicken fried steak works especially well)
Either hot sauce or country gravy
Deep fry meat.
Optional: dip meat in hot sauce or country gravy