Big Ten coaches: Don't write off league just yet
By: By Andrew Seligman, AP Sports Writer, Superior Telegram
Big Ten coaches had just one request for the critics ripping the conference after a rough weekend.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini cautioned against making "snap judgments" so early in the season during Tuesday's conference call, no matter how rough things looked.
"I don't make much of it," he said. "It's early in the year. I think there's a lot of football left to be played."
A 6-6 showing that left the Big Ten with just three ranked teams was bad enough. But last week's split decision included a 1-6 mark against opponents from major conferences and Notre Dame, plus Michigan's narrow win over Air Force.
So is the conference headed toward a dull season? At the moment, No. 10 Michigan State appears to be the only team with a realistic shot at the national championship, and the Spartans are facing a tough matchup this week at home against No. 20 Notre Dame.
A year ago, the Spartans' 31-13 loss in South Bend cast doubt on their season, but they rebounded to finish with 11 wins and the 11th spot in the final AP poll. That's something coach Mark Dantonio was quick to point out.
"I think we played two games," he said. "We're very, very early in the season. I think last year, as I remember, the third game we didn't play well at Notre Dame and people sort of wrote us off. I think we ended up No. 9 or something like that in the nation. People will respond. That's the nature of football, the competitive nature of things. People are going to respond, and they're going ... to reset their compass and re-evaluate and move forward. It's very, very competitive in the country right now in terms of winning and losing football games."
Michigan State was one of the bright spots for the Big Ten, pounding Central Michigan as expected, but No. 17 Michigan struggled to get past Air Force despite Denard Robinson's 426 yards of offense.
Against BCS opponents? The results weren't good.
Northwestern beat Vanderbilt, but that was it for the Big Ten.
Nebraska's defense gave up 653 yards in a 36-30 loss to UCLA that dropped the Cornhuskers out of the Top 25. Purdue lost by three to Notre Dame on a late field goal, and Boilermakers quarterback Robert Marve injured his left knee.
Illinois got shredded by Arizona State. Iowa managed just two field goals in a 9-6 loss to Iowa State and has just one touchdown after two games. Wisconsin's offense managed just 35 yards rushing and 207 overall in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State. Star running back Montee Ball had just 61 yards on the ground, and offensive line coach Mike Markuson was let go.
"Overall, I just wasn't seeing the results," coach Bret Bielema said. "This wasn't something that was decided overnight. I've had discussions with Mike going back into last spring, kind of getting to where we needed to be. I just felt for us to move forward one of the things as a head coach that I decided early on in my career was if I didn't like the direction somewhere was going and thought we had a chance to have a good football team, I wasn't going to wait until the end just because that's how it's normally done. This one was on me as a head coach. I righted a situation I felt I needed to do. Hopefully, we can move forward with progress."
The Badgers still seem to have a clear path to the Big Ten title game in the Leaders division.
After all, No. 12 Ohio State and Penn State are banned from playing in the Big Ten title game or a bowl as part of NCAA sanctions. Indiana's two wins are over weak competition (Indiana State and Massachusetts), and Illinois and Purdue have done nothing to indicate they're about to make a jump.
Then again, the conference's coaches think it's too early to rule anything out.
"One game doesn't define a season," Bielema said. "The Big Ten went, what, 6-6 overall? Obviously, it's not winning, it's not losing, but it's right in the middle. That's not where the Big Ten wants to be. We played some pretty formidable teams. ... It'll be a chance to assess the season at the end of the season and see exactly where we're at."