At least B1G's latest drama is of the on-field variety
A beast in the East, a mess in the West and an upcoming November to remember.
Technically, it’s now Week 10 of the 2020 college football season. But the Big Ten is just two weeks in, and we’ve already gone from zero to 100 in terms of storylines.
And that’s aside from the conference’s botched handling of its COVID-19 response.
After all the bogus of the past few months, this is what we wanted, right?
Maybe not in its purest form. Week 2 B1G football looks a lot like Week 2 SEC football — plenty of turnovers, missed tackles and the occasional soft tissue injury.
This is what we get with no spring practice, an abbreviated fall schedule and jumping right into a conference-only slate. It’s already a league that’s never for the faint of heart.
But it’s football, it matters, and it counts. With zero flexibility in scheduling and one game already canceled thanks to the coronavirus, we’ll see how long it lasts.
Folks in Columbus are certainly hoping it does. Quarterback Justin Fields might be even better than advertised, and after Ohio State’s toughest game on paper, it would appear it’s the Buckeyes, Alabama, Clemson then the field once again in this year’s national conversation.
Third-ranked Ohio State also displayed in their 38-25 victory over No. 18 Penn State the formula for successful defense in an era when points are compiled at record clips: build from the back out in recruiting, rely on your secondary then get after the quarterback.
Sean Clifford was sacked 5 times. And the Nittany Lions, once considered the top threat to Ohio State’s repeat College Football Playoff chances, are 0-2.
So who is the next best threat?
Perhaps the team sitting idle amid a COVID-19 breakout on its roster. Will Wisconsin even be eligible to play Ohio State in the B1G championship? Will there even be a B1G championship?
Despite their aspirations to finally top the Bucks under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan certainly doesn’t look like a legitimate worry. The Wolverines can’t even get past their own mistakes or a supposedly rebuilding in-state rival with a first-year head coach.
How long does Harbaugh have before the leading Michigan men and women have had enough? Hard to imagine an athletic department with at least a $26 million deficit forking out a $10 million buyout.
Some heroes are beginning to emerge in East Lansing, meanwhile. Their names are Rocky (Lombardi) and Ricky (White), and it only took Mel Tucker two weeks to deliver his first signature victory in forest green.
Ricky White Highlights vs. Michigan Wolverines | 2020 Regular Season Week 9 9, 10/31/2020 pic.twitter.com/ZC4sqstAzu
— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) October 31, 2020
Is it No. 17 Indiana? The B1G East’s only other undefeated team looked great against Penn State and solid in a 37-21 win over Rutgers on Saturday.
Those who have followed Tom Allen’s job with the Hoosiers shouldn’t be surprised. But a victory Nov. 21 at Ohio State would be a shocker.
One at a time!! 2-0! pic.twitter.com/kYPPeEli8t
— Coach Tom Allen (@CoachAllenIU) November 1, 2020
And that’s all just in the division that right now is a foregone conclusion.
The West’s best team didn’t play, and neither did its scheduled opponent. Wisconsin announced Saturday it’s up to 12 players and 10 staff members with positive COVID-19 tests.
That number includes starting quarterback Graham Mertz and head coach Paul Chryst, who can’t return ’til Thursday at the earliest.
No word yet on whether the ninth-ranked Badgers can have their cases in check by next Saturday, when Purdue is scheduled to be in Madison, or not. Another update is expected Tuesday.
This weekend’s canceled game between 1-0-COVID Wisconsin and Nebraska likely won’t be the last. Too many dominoes fall in the league’s ill-conceived schedule, and the whole thing could come crashing down.
For now, though, we get 2-0 Northwestern against a Huskers group that has to be amped after it wasn’t allowed to seek a replacement game this weekend.
The Wildcats were the second team in as many days to show few leads are safe as defenses around the sport continue to struggle.
After going up 17-0 early, Iowa was the victim and are now 0-2 after a tumultuous offseason fraught with racial allegations and a current legal threat against their coaches.
Fun times in Iowa City.
Tied with the Fighting Fitzes atop the West standings? Rondale Moore-less Purdue, of course.
Minnesota was the first West team this weekend to blow a 17-point lead. Taulia Tagovailoa and Maryland on Friday exposed the Gophers’ very real problems on defense.
P.J. Fleck’s squad may be giving teams like Purdue and Nebraska a window of opportunity to challenge Wisconsin.
All this against the backdrop of COVID-19, where every team is a positive test or two away from being in the same boat as the Badgers. We’ll probably never get used to the mostly-empty stands and pumped-in crowd noise, but you’ve got to love the pan-away shots from FOX, ESPN and Big Ten Network showing players’ parents and family members getting into it as if there were 90,000 friends in the yard with them.
It’s another image of some much-needed positive developments in this conference — that its football melodrama is finally playing out, well, on the football field.
For the most part. For now.