As B1G restores presence on a national stage, a familiar narrative looms in the coming weeks
I have that feeling.
You know, that unsettling rumbling you get in the pit of your stomach when something bad is about to happen. It happened sometime between Wisconsin’s 21-7 win over Northwestern and Ohio State’s 62-3 drubbing of Nebraska.
Last Tuesday, the B1G had an unexpected presence in the College Football Playoff’s rankings, particularly in the top 12 spots. Five spots were reserved for the B1G, the conference’s best showing in the rankings since the playoff system was developed in 2014. Fans were finally able to celebrate, knowing the conference had escaped the shadow of the SEC and was finally receiving the attention it deserved.
Did people set this out to be a bigger deal than it actually was? Probably so. After all, the first release of the College Football Rankings in early November will hardly represent what the final polls look like one month from now. More than anything, it was a sign that the selection committee had veered away from the narrative that the SEC was the king of college football and the B1G was nothing more than a jester in the court.
That was reinforced this weekend – at least for the most part. Michigan and Penn State dominated and Wisconsin snapped a four-game losing streak at Northwestern that dated back to 1999. Nebraska was the one team that showed that it probably didn’t belong in CFP conversation after being annihilated by the Buckeyes in Columbus.
By and large, it was another satisfying weekend for the B1G.
So why that nervous feeling? What’s the whale swimming around in my stomach, making me feel uneasy about the final three weeks of the regular season?
Another narrative is beginning to swirl around the Midwest. Maybe it’s conferences like the SEC and the PAC-12 attempting to discredit the legitimacy of a conference that has climbed out of the cellar and has climbed to the peak of college football, dethroning any other league as the sport’s best.
It’s the old “Michigan and Ohio State are good and nobody else can touch them,” storyline that’s beginning to wiggle its way into the conversation. At the end of the season, that may the argument used against the B1G, regardless of how that debate is riddled with flaws.
Ohio State’s 59-point win over Nebraska didn’t help things. B1G haters (I’m not a huge fan of that term, by the way), will point to that loss and the Huskers’ 7-0 start and call fraud. Soon – if it hasn’t started already – the “they ain’t played nobody,” statement is going to start filling up talk radio lines and the Twitter-sphere.
Taking Wisconsin to the wire in Camp Randall Stadium last weekend will quickly be overlooked. An injury to Tommy Armstrong Jr. in the second quarter – one of the scariest moments of the season – that forced him to be carted off in an ambulance and taken to a nearby hospital, completely altering the mindset of a group of 18 to 22-year-olds will be disregarded.
62-3 was the final score. That’s the only factor most will take into consideration.
Penn State is still taking a high amount of criticism for getting demolished in Ann Arbor in the B1G opener earlier this season. The Nittany Lions were beaten 49-10 by a Michigan team that’s winning games by an average of 37.3 points per contest.
Forget about five-straight wins and a thrilling upset win over Ohio State in Beaver Stadium that gave James Franklin his first signature win since arriving in Happy Valley. That 39-point loss to the Wolverines makes Penn State look like an overrated bunch. That’s what people are sticking with.
And then there’s Wisconsin. The B1G team with arguably the most difficult schedule in college football. It took down LSU in the season-opening contest but lost to Michigan by a single score in the Big House and was trumped in overtime at home by the Buckeyes, once again by a touchdown. Despite fielding one of the country’s top defenses and beating everyone else that’s been in the way, that’s still a shaky mark for those who don’t want to give the B1G any credit.
If Wisconsin wins out, it’s hard to argue against there qualifications as a legitimate CFP contender. Even the most stubborn SEC supporters would be hard-pressed to discredit the Badgers’ resume at the end of the year. My fear, though, is that it won’t happen.
Wisconsin’s depth stretches thinner and thinner every week. It’s already lost defenders Chris Orr and Jack Cichy. Kicker Rafael Gagliannone has been sidelined for quite some time and running back Corey Clement has dealt with some minor nicks and scrapes this season. Prior to the Northwestern game, T.J. Watt was questionable and appeared to take a pretty solid beating at Ryan Field on Saturday. It’s easy to see how the Badgers could drop a game they would typically win, simply because of the health and status of the team.
That leaves us with Michigan, Ohio State and a narrative that doesn’t make any sense. Not if you’ve watched B1G football this season.
So far, the College Football Playoff committee gets it. Five teams in the top 12 proves that this is a group that has watched this conference play and isn’t living by the “the SEC schedule is a gauntlet,” standard that has swarmed the sport for the past decade. It’s seen the quality of talent on the rosters of Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska. It’s considered the quality wins and accounted for the eye test.
But there’s still a lot of football left to be played. I’m still concerned that Michigan, Ohio State and everybody else narrative will work its way into the conversation at some point. An entire year’s worth of work at restoring the conference’s prominence on a national level could be washed away by some
With No. 4 Texas A&M, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 11 Florida all losing this weekend, the B1G should still have a prominent role in this Tuesday’s ranking. Sure, the Huskers’ fall hurts, but Michigan and Ohio State could own two of the top four spots. You can really make the argument for the Buckeyes since the Aggies owned the final bracket spot last week. Wisconsin and Penn State should each have a firm grasp on a top 10 slot, as well. That should make B1G fans feel good heading into the second round of the College Football Playoff rankings.
I’m not feeling great, though. Not with that narrative continuing to loom and seemingly approaching the B1G each and every week. If Penn State and Wisconsin win out, I’ll feel better about it.
There’s a lot of football left, though. Unfortunately, that means there’s still time for the national media to discredit everything the conference has accomplished in 2016.