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Big Ten Review: Seven Lessons from an Ugly Saturday

Every time I made a mistake, my old man would tell me about it. But he would also always mention that "making mistakes is part of life; everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to learn from them." I heard that line so often that it became part of my worldview. In some bs liberal arts class at State -- modern and contemporary rhetoric, I believe -- I even wrote a mid-term paper trying to prove the argument that all real learning requires making mistakes.

With the silver lining now drawn around the ominous cloud that is Penn State's early Big Ten season, let's take a look back at the mistakes I made in picking last week's games, in an effort to learn from them. As I went 2-3 against the spread, and 2-3 in picking winners, there's evidently a lot of learning to be had.

1.      Michigan State is for real. I thought the Spartans would lose in the Big House on Saturday, but cover the spread. They covered alright, and absolutely dominated Michigan in Ann Arbor. Clearly the Wolverines have a poor defense, but anytime you rush for more than 250 yards on the road in a rivalry game in the Big Ten, you can move the ball on the ground. Michigan State looks so good so far that I would be really worried if we weren't only half way through October. There's still plenty of time left for Sparty to fail in some epic manner, and you could actually read their start of the season as simply the rise before the fall.

2.      Northwestern isn't. I've clearly been too high on a Northwestern team that's now 5-1, but still hasn't beaten anyone. Northwestern had won close in its two previous wins against BCS opponents--Vanderbilt and Minnesota--and it was only a matter of time before their myriad mistakes caused a loss. Well the clock struck midnight on Saturday against Purdue, and Northwestern lost due to a blocked and missed field goal in the closing minutes.


3.      Illinois is better than I imagined and clearly in the top half of the league. Somewhat lost in the soul-searching we've been doing here and throughout the Nittany Nation is the reality that we lost on Saturday to what appears to be a pretty solid football team. This isn't last year's Fighting Zooks. Illinois plays solid defense and they have a diverse offense that can move the ball. That offense got into a rhythm in the second half against Penn State's depleted defense and looked better than it is. Nevertheless, Illinois is no slouch and could very likely end up in the top 3 of the league at the end of the year.

4.      Good defense beats good offense every time. The Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines both have exciting, dynamic offenses that can put points on the board in the hurry -- against weak defenses. Indiana scored 10 points on Saturday and Michigan got 17 on the board, as both lost big time. The weather's been perfect in Big Ten play thus far, so one expects that as the leaves continue to change and eventually fall to the ground, flashy offenses will only be further exposed as insufficient to win against the best teams in the league.


5.      Purdue is the worst team that's undefeated in league play. Speaking of the best teams in the league, Purdue isn't one of them, even though they are one of the four Big Ten teams that undefeated in league play. The other three -- Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State -- are all legit and all have a viable chance to win the league this year. But Purdue doesn't. Their win against Northwestern with a first time starting QB says more about Northwestern's ineptness and -- good news Penn State fans! -- the ability of a bye week to cure what ails you than it does about how good they are.


6.      Penn State is the best team that's winless in league play. I really have no idea how good this Penn State team is. But I do know that we're better than the other two teams that are winless in league play, Minnesota and Indiana.  In fact, the two games against those squads are the only ones left on the schedule that I feel really confident about getting the W.


7.      I need more evidence before I can draw any conclusions about the four .500 teams in the league.  Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin are all 1-1 in league play. Northwestern is on a bye this coming Saturday, but we should learn a lot more about the other three. Wisconsin hosts Ohio State in what better be a raucous Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night. Michigan hosts Iowa, and if they barely get to double digits again, I think we can safely say that all is not well in Ann Arbor. And in the game that ought to tell us the most about Who's Who in the Big Ten, Illinois visits East Lansing to take on MSU at noon. The early line has Sparty as a touchdown favorite, but both teams have looked impressive so far, and we should learn which one has a legit chance to play in Pasadena Saturday.