Penn State climbs up the USA Today Coaches' poll:
13. Michigan State
22. Penn State
In stark contrast to last week, the Top 25 was subject to some exposure yesterday. The top nine all survived, but along the way formerly #22 Texas, #20 Baylor, #18 Arizona, and #16 Illinois all fell semi-comfortably. The Zookers ("get on the ZOOKTRAIN or FEEL THE ZOOKPAIN") allowing just one(!) completed pass all day and stay one spot ahead of Penn State. The OSU-PSU game is looking more and more like the kind of game that will earn the conference headlines in the spirit of this one.
And then there's Michigan. The anger and frustrating of losing four in a row is being targeted predominantly at this incredible display of poise:
The post-game press conference was saturated with the words "dirty" and "cheap" thanks to the reporters, but the players seemed uninterested and dismissive, responding in large part "well that's football." It makes me very pleased to have Hoke around, who instills that kind of culture from the top rather than the one that leads to delightfully trolly but still kind of pathetic sound bites like this one.
But anyway, Denard remains remarkable to watch but unable to get over the hump so far, inputs for things like a 33 ELOCHESS ranking but 11 PREDICTOR from Sagarin. They remain higher than they probably should have in the polls because of the soft ramp that got them to #10, but then again who after Oregon really deserves their name in the paper either?
Oh, and Bret Bielema? Still a total dick, but good for him. He's got two ESPN love-children from the SEC to jump, plus what looks like a freight train Oklahoma team that was able to roll FSU back when people were expecting them to be good at football. He'd be running trick plays while blowing out lesser competition anyway, but at least this year there's some strategic justification for it.
The Big Ten Standings. This is way more promising than it should be. Everyone keeps losing.
Legends/West/Corn (6-8 Total Record)
Michigan State 2-0
Leaders/East/Pig (9-7 Total Record)
Penn State 3-0
Ohio State 1-2
An update from last week:
- It just got a lot easier for Penn State to keep everyone but Wisconsin behind them. Fickell found his new strategy: "The game plan was to win -- that's the ultimate, most important thing." But they still have two losses plus Wisconsin, and perhaps a talented Michigan team. The Purdue win sinks the Fighting Forgettables. Illinois's loss is a big one, not only because it ruins the momentum of the ZOOKTRAIN but also because they're likely to get steamrolled by a Wisconsin team that will decide to throw zero passes and gain 700 yards anyway.
- I'm not sure which division is better, and frankly I'm not sure it matters. Only Wisconsin is a real national team, and the bottom of each division is impossible to muck through. Nebraska and Michigan (or Iowa?) don't seem any more sane or capable than Penn State and Illinois, and the inverse holds true as well.
- Minnesota may not be the worst team in the Big Ten since Paterno started coaching, but it's going to be a fun exploration anyway.
So, the roadmap? Ohio State just proved Illinois can be beat ugly, and I think Penn State has that in their repertoire. Paterno can lose once to either Nebraska or Ohio State and survive, and then it's the division championship game against Wisconsin on the last day of the season -- just the way Delany hoped it would be.
Now do I expect this team, after some modest regression this week in everything but the run game, to pull that off? No, but I don't know why anyone else in the Big Ten not located in Madison should feel better about their problems than Penn State. How's that for a rallying cry?