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Worst Big Ten Team of the 21st C., the Championship: 2013 Purdue vs. 2012 Illinois

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Darrell Hazell. Tim Beckman. An who’s who of the worst in Big Ten history—and after today, there can only be one. VOTE NOW!

Come with me. Let’s unravel this whole thing together.

We’ve reached the end.

Or so you think.

What if I told you that in the course of my efforts I’ve stumbled onto something bigger than just bad football? What if I told you that there is a thread that ties much of what we’ve encountered thus far together? [Much, not all. Indiana’s ineptitude isn’t part of this conspiracy. They’ve just been consistently bad for much of recent decades.] What if I told you that, while I don’t fully understand what I’ve unearthed, I think I HAVE identified the man at the center of it all?

What if I told you it was this man?

Now, I’m not saying that a significant portion of the worst football played in the Big Ten in recent history is the fault of Bill Cubit. Far from it. The man had a successful run at Western Michigan and stepped into a tough situation at Illinois and turned in a respectable 5-7 season in 2015.

Rather, I’m saying that whatever the forces are that ARE responsible for much of the worst B1G football, Bill Cubit seems to be one of the portals through which they work.

Again, it’s not Bill Cubit’s fault.

September 1, 2012 feels like so long ago.

It was a simpler time back then.

While summer was still hanging on, you knew autumn was approaching. Nothing made that more apparent than the commencement of another college football season. In Big Ten land there were plenty of big stories...such that what was really important could pass by undetected without much difficulty.

The easily amused trained their attention on Columbus, where the Urban Meyer era began with a rout of Miami-Ohio. Those of us who are righteous in our thirst for vengeance (or vengeful in our righteousness) zeroed in on State College, where Penn State’s first post-Paterno season started with a 24-14 home loss to Ohio. The easily amused waited until nightfall to watch an overmatched (and overrated) Michigan Wolverines squad get shellacked by Alabama 41-14.

Even below the headlines, there were good stories to be found. Iowa defeated Northern Illinois 18-17 at Soldier Field. Nobody could have predicted that three months later, Northern Illinois would be headed to a BCS bowl and Iowa would be home with a 4-8 record.

Michigan State had defeated a ranked Boise State team the night before. But that would pretty much be the highlight of the Spartans season, as they stumbled home 7-6. The game of the day for the conference took place in the Carrier Dome, where Northwestern blew a 35-13 lead before rallying to defeat Syracuse 42-41. This launched NW on their way to a 10-win season. Wherever you looked, you could find results of interest.

Nobody was looking toward Champaign, Illinois.

But they should have been.

This Illini kicked off the 2012 campaign with a 24-7 win over Western Michigan. Given that the Broncos were fresh off of a bowl appearance, this appeared to be a convincing win over a good MAC team. Not enough to book Rose Bowl reservations, but certainly a good way to start the season.

But look closer.

Up 17-7 in the 4th quarter, Illinois put the game away with a 60-yard pick-six with 9:06 to play. But this means that WMU was driving, threatening to cut the Illini lead to 17-10, or 17-14.

Look closer.

Total yards: WMU 259, Illinois 248

Turnovers: WMU 4, Illinois 1

Was Illinois the better team? Western Michigan finished 4-8 and fired their coach, yet they hung with this Illinois squad most of the day, despite negative rushing yards. Illinois would go 1-10 the rest of the way, with the only win being a 44-0 rout of overmatched (and sub .500) FCS opponent Charleston Southern. Their only Big Ten loss by fewer than two TDs was to 2012 Purdue.

2013 Purdue opened up getting drilled 42-7 by a good Cincinnati team (ended up 9-4). If the schedules are reversed, isn’t it possible, likely even, that 2013 Purdue goes 2-10 and records an FBS victory, and 2012 Illinois is 1-11?

So, before you crown 2013 Purdue, realize the 2012 Illinois earned their way to the title game.

Feel free to review the gory details for each team:

2012 Illinois here:

2013 Purdue here:

Poll

Who was THE WORST?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    2012 Illinois
    (128 votes)
  • 44%
    2013 Purdue
    (104 votes)
232 votes total Vote Now

Thanks for indulging this project. I hope it at least gave you some occasional enjoyment given all that’s going on, and not going on, all around us. It’s times like these that sports usually can bring us together. But sports isn’t really all that important in the big picture, and it is important to have proper perspec-

WAIT!

I promised you more, didn’t I? A closer-than-it-looked 24-7 victory might factor into how you weigh these two teams, but it’s just one data point our of 24 in choosing how to vote. There has to be more to that game than I’ve let on thus far, right?

Right.

I temporized in part to allow readers who only came here to cast a vote to do so and then to leave before we advanced further. But in truth, my hesitation was mainly because of what I found. Am I complicit if I share this with you all?

Okay, start with the basics. 2012 Western Michigan was coached by Bill Cubit. Coming off of their third bowl appearance in six years, they slumped to 4-8 and Cubit lost his job.

In 2013, he was with Illinois as their O-coordinator/QB coach. And he did a good job. The offense was much better. Whatever THIS is, it is NOT Bill Cubit’s fault!

But look closer.

It’s not what you see. It’s who’s controlling what you see.

I mentioned that Western Michigan was coming off of a bowl appearance. What I didn’t mention—and probably shouldn’t mention—is that in 2011, Western Michigan played in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl vs....

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Purdue.

I don’t know who was working through Bill Cubit, or how. All I know is that I’m not the only one who figured this out. Somebody realized what was happening, and the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl was cancelled two years later. But, obviously, that was too late.

I noted in the beginning that this conspiracy doesn’t involve Indiana. That may or may not be true. All I know is that I cannot connect it to Indiana yet. But, as you can see, we’ve already nailed down clear evidence that some evil force, working through Bill Cubit, reached Illinois and Purdue.

Lest you wonder about my process, I will admit I don’t have all the details in place yet.

I don’t know what to do with the fact that P. J. Fleck replaced Cubit at Western Michigan, or that one of Cubit’s biggest wins at WMU was the 2007 season-ending upset win @ Iowa, which cost the Hawkeyes a bowl game. Minnesota is flourishing under Fleck, and that was only a blip on the radar for Iowa.

Does that mean that whatever it is that is working through Cubit has no effect west of the Mississippi?

Maybe.

Cubit’s first P5 job was as QB coach for Florida in 1989 (i.e., the year before Spurrier arrived). Who was his head coach?

Galen Hall. PSU alum, and PSU O-coordinator form 2004-2011.

I think that’s a red herring though. Cubit spend the 90s split between the MAC and D-III Widener. Whatever malevolent force we are dealing with probably doesn’t concern itself with D-III head coaches or MAC position coaches.

Cubit’s first gig as a coordinator for a major conference program came in 2000 with Missouri.

It didn’t go well. Mizzou went 3-8. Head coach Larry Smith was fired, and Cubit lost his job as new head coach Gary Pinkel brought in his own guys.

Now Cubit is at a crossroads. Not everybody who only has a single, unsuccessful year as a major college coordinator gets a second chance.

“Now I can give you the background, but you have to find the foreground, the little things. Keep digging.”

But Bill Cubit did.

Somebody hired Bill Cubit as offensive coordinator the very next year. Perhaps more accurately, some force, working through the man who hired Bill Cubit for the 2001 season, took this opportunity to unleash something so unholy that it explains a large portion of very worst football that the Big Ten has endured so far this century.

You need to take the last step on your own, though.

It would be a stretch to have Kyle MacLachlan play him in the movie...